How to Help Employees Navigate Career Pathways

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Did you know that helping your employees understand and navigate career advancement pathways within your organization is critical to retaining a talented workforce? Studies have shown that employers who don’t offer advancement opportunities for workers, particularly in low-wage jobs, will find difficulty in hiring and retaining talent—not to mention in maintaining a happy staff and positive work culture.

This opportunity gap in the workplace has been amplified during the pandemic, as many workers are not returning to work as expected due to wage stagnation and lack of advancement opportunities. In June 2021, the job opening rate was 6.5%—the highest it’s been since the U.S. Department of Labor began tracking the number in 2001.

A recent study by SPR found that organizations with higher retention rates tend to set clear career pathways and help employees navigate them. Top organizations typically set specific internal goals for advancement (for example, 50% of managers will be promoted from within), and they also implement coaching or mentoring programs to nurture and encourage career development from within.

As one employer in the study noted, “Ultimately, people want to advance. And so, unless they feel like there are career ladders or career pathways, both within a company and within the sector, then they will leave.” According to the Harvard Business Review, workers who don’t see a clear progression from their current role to a better position in their company ultimately turn to opportunities elsewhere.

To ensure your business retains its top talent, here are four best practices (and examples) you can use to help workers navigate internal career pathways:

1. Clearly document career advancement pathways

Businesses should develop clear information about pathways to advancement within the organization. Human resources can look for measures and controls for career advancement and then develop documentation with standards that are fair and transparent across the board. Criteria used to assess employee promotion to the next level should be easily accessible to staff at all levels.

For example: One manufacturer developed a career navigation application for employees that provides a line of sight into career pathways and allows employees to focus on skills they want to develop. Information specific to their position and skill set is also mapped to possible career advancement opportunities.

2. Prioritize and communicate internal advancement

Organizations should work to prioritize promotion from within by clearly communicating the availability of advancement pathways and new job opportunities. This can be done through email, in one-on-one conversations, by putting up flyers or using other internal communication methods. Employees feel valued and prioritized if they know new job openings are posted internally before being advertised outside of the company. Supervisors can also reach out directly to workers who may be targeted for promotion or be a good fit for a specific position. Overall, employees should be well-informed and fully aware of advancement options open to them.

For example: One retailer hosted an open-house fair where management from different departments met with frontline workers to talk about their skills and interests and discuss which career pathways were available based on their specific goals.

3. Create opportunities for career advancement via training programs

Educational program curricula should make clear the connection between training and the company’s internal career advancement pathways. Workers should know what to expect after completing the training (for example, how the training is linked to a raise or a promotion). In some cases, training programs can be clearly connected to promotions or pay increases at predetermined levels. This not only helps the employee; employers can significantly lower costs of recruiting and gain positive long-term outcomes by educating and training their workforce.

For example: A hospital was having trouble hiring lab technicians, so it designed a training program to upskill incumbent employees to fill those positions. Doing so created a new career advancement pathway, cut recruiting costs and established an internal talent pipeline for the hospital.

4. Employ staff whose specific function is to support career advancement

Direct supervisors play an important role in encouraging advancement within an organization. However, many companies have found that employing staff dedicated to helping workers achieve their career goals can be far more beneficial. A point person, such as a career navigator or mentor, can focus solely on assisting workers to determine what training is most appropriate for their career goals. They can also help to find funding (whether employer contribution, loans or grants) to pay for that training. This dedicated staff can be part of internal human resources or employed by outside vendors hired by the company.

For example: At one insurance company, workers can seek mentorship outside their department if they have an interest in exploring other areas. This employee mentoring program provides them with guidance and support about how to advance within the company and helps them to meet with teams in other departments or units who may have openings.

As The Great Resignation persists, employee retention remains a top priority for many businesses. By helping employees navigate clearly mapped career pathways—through documentation, communication, training and other supports—organizations can gain an advantage in the war on talent.

At Pearson Accelerated Pathways, we understand that best-in-class organizations do not adopt and implement these strategies one at a time or in isolation. That’s why we work to align with your company culture and capacity to provide a holistic approach to employee retention and advancement. We have a proven track record of upskilling workforces and helping organizations build an internal talent pipeline for the future of work. Learn more about how we can offer your employees advancement opportunities and custom career pathways through learning and education.

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