Workers Need Custom Career Paths, Not Cookie-Cutter Plans

One-size-fits-all education and career planning isn’t good for people or for meeting business goals, writes Craig Maloney, CEO of InStride.

Far too many companies make the mistake of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to employee development and education, which isn’t good for people or for meeting business goals.

Craig Maloney, CEO of InStride

Their intent is well placed. Nine of out ten organizations are concerned about employee retention, and providing learning opportunities is at the top of their list for keeping employees around. People crave a sense of direction and purpose. And thoughtfully crafted career paths, with learning opportunities clearly laid out, are essential for offering individuals that sense of direction and purpose, while also fueling organizational success.

But those paths have to be thoughtful.

So, how do you design tailored development plans that fit different employees’ needs and goals? It starts by recognizing that your workforce isn’t one-dimensional. People are at different career stages, bringing diverse experiences, behaviors, and motivations to the table. With that in mind, let’s look at three common “employee personas” and how their specific needs and goals can be aligned to relevant career paths.

The Newbie

The Newbie is a recent entrant to the workforce, often an entry-level hire, and hoping to build skills that will help them grow as they begin to climb the career ladder. 

They’re often unsure of longer-term internal mobility opportunities, and companies need to be intentional about sharing opportunities for informational meetings, job shadowing, and additional education that could help the Newbie grow in their career at the company. This is key for setting a positive start as 92% of employees say education and training programs have a positive effect on their engagement when well planned. 

Here’s an example. Tuli initially took a job as a delivery driver to make extra money and wasn’t expecting it to lead to a long-term career. However, she discovered her company offered a sponsored education program that included career paths designed to help delivery drivers pursue high-growth jobs across a range of areas, including project management, logistics, and cybersecurity. 

When Tuli logged into her company’s workforce education platform, she found detailed career paths complete with job descriptions and responsibilities. This guided her toward programs—high school diploma completion, certifications, and degrees—that matched her aspirations and aligned with opportunities to advance at her company. 

The Cross-Career Navigator

The Cross-Career Navigator has a goal of transferring their current skills to a new, adjacent career, such as an IT networking technician who aspires to transition into cybersecurity.

Employees say that “progress toward career goals” is their No. 1 motivation for learning. However, employees encounter two challenges when contemplating a new career path or goal:

  • First, assessing if the career pivot is worth the time and investment it could require. 
  • Second, figuring out where to begin. 

Well-crafted career and education pathways help employees with both these challenges. 

To illustrate, let’s map the journey of a Cross-Career Navigator named Emma. She is currently an IT technician, a role that she’s had at the same organization for the past two years. She has a high school diploma and earns about $52K per year. She never had the opportunity to pursue higher education, but wants to move into a career in cybersecurity and increase her earning potential. 

Emma explores the education programs sponsored by her company, which include a career path dedicated to cybersecurity. The company’s career site lays out the outlook for the cyber field, skills that hiring managers look for, and a list of the exact academic courses and programs to build those skills. She enrolls in a cyber education program and, as she nears completion, her current manager and the manager overseeing cybersecurity work at the company are both notified and collaborate to identify a role that Emma can transition into.

That proactive approach by the company helps the Cross-Career Navigator smoothly upskill into a new, valuable role. Without a clearly laid-out path for this professional, the company is more likely to lose them as they seek out a more challenging and fulfilling role elsewhere.

The Continuous Learner

The Continuous Learner is established in a career and wants to upskill to a new position. An example is the cybersecurity analyst who is now considering a jump to management and needs a project management or certified information security manager credential.

Only one in four employees is confident about their career path at their current organization, according to Gartner. To instill confidence it’s essential to clearly detail how the Continuous Learner can develop technical and soft skills that are relevant to their chosen career. This can include taking additional courses, obtaining certifications, participating in workshops, gaining practical experience through volunteer work or earning higher degrees.

Let’s continue Emma’s journey highlighted above, as she transitions to be a Continuous Learner.  Emma could maximize her earning potential if she pursues a graduate degree. A dual MS/MBA in engineering management, for example, would likely net her a promotion to senior project manager, increasing her annual salary to $130K. Her employer has worked with its college partners to carefully select programs and ensure they target the skills that Emma needs to advance her career. All that information is easily accessible through her company’s online education portal. 

That way, she doesn’t have to navigate academic programs on her own and risk choosing a program that doesn’t align to her career goals. 

Why Well-Defined Career Paths Are a Must

The bottom line: Career paths must be both well-defined and diverse. Randstad’s research found that, across 34 major markets, 70% of employees regarded career development opportunities to be important, and 72% considered training and development crucial for current and future jobs. Workers need education options that meet them where they are—and help them map where they’re going.

Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to meeting such widespread needs across diverse workforces just won’t work.

Craig Maloney is the CEO of InStride, a workforce education company, and a veteran of the healthcare and insurance industries.

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