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Podcast: Mitigating Risk with Employee Handbooks (with Ken Siepman)
July 1, 2024
Podcast: How and Why Pay Transparency Works
July 15, 2024

Career Pathing: A Strategic Tool for Talent Attraction and Retention

At Purple Ink, we strive to share our wide array of experience in leading teams and working with top tier companies. While we glean great insights from past experiences, we are always sharpening our skills to stay ahead of the curve. I recently returned from our SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) national conference and absorbed a lot of data about our past, present, and future workforce. There are several things that were made clear.

  1. Our workforce is getting smaller.
  2. Our work is changing.  
  3. Our workforce isn’t skilled and ready to take on the work that is needed to fuel our economy.
  4. Our workforce seeks career development and specific career paths.
  5. Our workforce has requirements that drive them to where those needs are met.

Employers’ talent pipelines are shrinking and if they want to attract top talent that is sustainable, they need to feed their talent’s hunger for learning and advancement. Those who invest in these strategies will see the ROI.

What is Career Pathing?

Career pathing, though a new term to some, has deep historical roots. Traditionally, careers began with roles like trainee or apprentice, whether in farming, baking, plumbing, painting, shipbuilding, or accounting. For example, I started as a bank management trainee, working as a teller and assistant manager. Knowing my potential path to branch manager, I also recognized the value of our internal job posting system, where about 90% of talent came from internal training programs. I applied to be a professional recruiter and eventually led the retail bank management college recruiting program. Committing to internal hiring and growth means extensive one-on-one training. Throughout my journey, I was guided by many patient mentors who invested their time in me.

Many successful companies and organizations – such as GE, Amazon, Chick-fil-A, Abbott, Eli Lilly, and Honeywell – are seeing success with professional development, and many are taking it further by offering structured paths to advance. You do not have to be an enterprise size company to have training programs, development opportunities, or career paths. This can be accomplished in many ways and in ways that aren’t costly.

The ROI on Your Investment in Career Pathing

1. Enhancing Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

Career pathing boosts job satisfaction by providing employees with a sense of direction and purpose, leading to higher engagement levels.

2. Reducing Turnover and Retaining Talent

High employee turnover is costly and disruptive. Career pathing plays a critical role in reducing turnover by showing employees that the company is invested in their growth and future. A study by LinkedIn found that employees who advance internally stay 41% longer than those who don’t.

3. Building a Skilled and Adaptable Workforce

We are moving toward a more automated, AI-supported type of work, and it requires retooling of our workforce. Career pathing encourages continuous learning and skill development, helping employees stay relevant and prepared for future challenges.

4. Promoting Internal Mobility

Career pathing facilitates internal job transitions, which leads to a more versatile and experienced workforce.

5. Fostering a Positive Company Culture

Employee testimonials and research highlight the positive impact of career pathing on company culture, emphasizing a supportive and growth-oriented workplace.

6. Strengthening Employer Branding

Career pathing enhances employer reputation, making the company a desirable place to work. Firms like LinkedIn and Adobe are recognized for their career development initiatives, helping them attract and retain top-tier talent.

7. Enhancing Leadership Development

Career pathing contributes to creating a robust leadership pipeline, preparing employees for leadership roles.

8. Increasing Performance

Regular training can address current problems and future issues with quality, customer satisfaction, and production.

9. Increasing Organizational Agility

A skilled and adaptable workforce is crucial for organizational agility and can support employees by continually developing relevant skills.

10. Aligning Employee Goals with Organizational Objectives

Career pathing helps employees see how their personal goals fit within the broader organizational goals. Strategies for aligning career pathing with business objectives include regular performance reviews, goal-setting sessions, coaching, and, when applicable, role specific training.

The Many Forms of Professional Development

We are all familiar with onboarding programs, the occasional mandatory safety training, compliance training, and maybe a team training on how we can better understand ourselves and work together. Many organizations have invested in a learning management system (LMS) to house internal training on safety, product knowledge, and even soft skills training. To take it a step further, companies may use a training company for leadership training, or they develop their own internal training academies. These are all pieces to the bigger puzzle and should be a part of a well-rounded program.

Career pathing involves creating clear, structured plans for employees to advance within the organization, aligning their personal goals with the company’s objectives. Some companies have paths in certain fields or departments. For example, there may be clear and defined paths in sales, manufacturing, operations, finance, administration, and human resources. Those paths may be straight or may involve working in other departments to enhance overall company knowledge. 

Practical Steps for Implementing Career Pathing Programs

Designing and implementing effective career pathing initiatives involves several steps:

  • Assessment: Evaluate current skills and career aspirations of employees.
  • Goal Setting: Establish clear, achievable goals for career progression.
  • Training and Development: Provide resources for skill development.
  • Mentorship and Guidance: Encourage mentorship programs to support employee growth.
  • Regular Review: Continuously assess and adjust career plans to align with changing goals and market conditions.

Make sure to calculate the ROI on whatever programs you put in place, so that you know if the investment is paying off. Put in the measures ahead of time. What will a successful development program look like? How many employees are taking advantage of the tools and resources that you have provided? The cost of turnover is 1–4 times an employee’s role. What are you saving on recruiting costs? Are engagement scores going up? Are customer reviews and ratings improved? Is productivity increasing?

Don’t be overwhelmed by feeling that you must a full-blown and multi-faceted development plan with structured pathways. Be strategic about how you want to implement it and have a plan that can gradually build out a successful program that meets the needs of your current and future workforce to support your company as work evolves. Check out these two articles in The Muse and Indeed if you want some fresh ideas about how you can implement these strategies.

If you need help creating and implementing a program, we’d love to help you. Reach out to us here.

Peggy Hogan
Peggy Hogan
Peggy is Purple Ink’s Vice President of Client Services. She is passionate about helping organizations be more effective at sourcing and retaining top talent and loves the powerful effect connecting people to the right opportunity can have on their lives.

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