What Is Career Pathing? Why and How to Prioritize It in Your Company

Are you prepared to lose half of your workforce?

According to a recent Bankrate survey, 55% of American workers plan to look for a new job within the next 12 months. That’s bad news for organizations, since replacing a worker costs a median of 21% of their annual pay—and comes with more than a few headaches.

But there’s no need to panic. Smart implementation of engagement strategies like career pathing can prevent employee turnover, ensure your company or team has the skills and resources it needs to meet tomorrow’s challenges, and even attract new candidates.

So, what is career pathing?

Career Pathing: Definition and Benefits

To define career pathing, you can say it’s the process through which a supervisor(s) or talent development professional works with an employee to lay out their potential trajectory through the organization. It involves defining goals and identifying the skills and experience an employee must gain to achieve them.

Unlike the traditional career ladder, which simply lays out “rungs” or levels to climb, career pathing takes a broader approach. A comprehensive career path might include not only promotions but also lateral moves, job rotations, and training opportunities designed to help employees develop specific skills.

While career pathing may require an upfront investment in time and energy by the employer, it pays huge dividends in terms of employee engagement. A 2019 LinkedIn Learning report found that 94% of employees would stay with their company longer if it invested in their careers. 

Employees who see a path for growth within their organization are not only less likely to leave; they’re also more likely to consistently put their best foot forward. Clear performance benchmarks and opportunities for promotion are invaluable to increasing engagement, and Gallup has found that engaged teams are 17% more productive than their unengaged peers.

illustration of professional walking up steps to symbolize career pathing

Assessing Organizational Needs

While individual career pathing is valuable, companies may see the best results if they develop an organization-wide approach.

The first step is to identify the company’s goals in implementing career pathing. Common goals include:

  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Reducing turnover
  • Increasing rates of internal hiring
  • Addressing skills gaps
  • Creating succession plans
  • Increasing diversity in leadership 

Leadership should consider the company’s growth projections and their implications on staffing needs. Is the company expanding into a new area or shifting to keep up with changing customer demand? Will new technologies require new skill sets? If so, career paths should be designed to address those needs.

If promoting from within is an organizational priority, career pathing is an excellent tool for preparing the next generation of company leadership. By treating employees as potential future leaders from the time they join the company, organizations can uncover hidden talent and ensure a healthy and diverse talent pool.

Creating a Career Pathing Strategy

After an initial goals assessment, organizational leadership can work with their team to create a career pathing strategy that aligns with existing professional development efforts. Systems for employee education, performance assessment, and promotions may provide a framework for developing career paths—or they may need to be modified to better support career pathing. 

Since transparency in the workplace is increasingly important to organizational success, companies should strive to communicate openly with employees about career pathing efforts within the company. It’s essential that employees understand how to initiate career pathing conversations, what processes they can expect, and how their progress will be evaluated.

At the managerial level, supervisors will need training on how to develop and manage their employees’ career paths. Organizations may create standardized assessment methodologies and templates to track progress while minimizing the impacts of personal bias or preferences.

Best Practices for Career Pathing

Identifying the roles an employee might aim for in the future is just the start of the career pathing process. Supervisors and talent development professionals should be prepared to have frank discussions with employees about goals and specific areas of growth. Areas for supervisors and employees to consider in a career pathing conversation might include:

  • What are the employee’s career goals (e.g., move into management, switch to a different department)?
  • What hard skills (e.g., technical skills, certifications) does the employee need to develop to move forward?
  • What soft skills (e.g., communication, teamwork) does the employee need to develop?

Supervisors should be transparent in highlighting employees’ growth areas but should keep feedback constructive by providing resources or pathways to help employees move forward. These might include coaching sessions, mentorship, and internal or external professional development courses

The specifics of a career path will vary depending on the industry and type of role—for example, a business analyst might be able to learn more on the job than a scientist—but in nearly all cases, success will come from a balance of formal education and hands-on experience. For example, a marketer might hold roles spanning several specialty areas, such as social media and digital analytics, and complement that experience with courses in brand strategy and crisis communications before moving into an executive role. 

How Emeritus Can Help

At Emeritus, we work with leading universities to develop online programs that help organizations upskill and reskill their employees. Our experts can work with you to identify the coursework and professional development opportunities that best align with your organization’s career pathing efforts. Together, we can increase your employee engagement while preparing your business for the future.

By Rachel Hastings

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