Workforce challenges in HR – Changes to Career Development and Internal Progression

December 22, 2023

In the past decade, the landscape of career development and internal progression has undergone a profound transformation. The traditional linear career path within a single company, once considered the standard, has given way to a more dynamic and non-linear trajectory for today’s workforce. This shift has been driven by various factors, with remote and flexible working arrangements at the forefront.

The rise of remote work has liberated employees from the confines of the traditional office, opening up a global marketplace of job opportunities that transcend geographical boundaries. This newfound freedom empowers individuals to seek roles that align closely with their skills and passions, irrespective of their physical location. Consequently, organisations are faced with the challenge of competing on a global scale to attract and retain top talent. To address this, there is a growing imperative for robust internal career progression programmes that offer clear pathways for growth and advancement within the company, thereby fostering employee loyalty.

Flexible working arrangements have not only expanded job choices but have also contributed significantly to improving work-life balance. Employee satisfaction and retention have benefited from this flexibility, with many individuals now ranking it as high as salary and job title when making career decisions. Consequently, organisations are re-evaluating their value propositions to employees, acknowledging that opportunities for personal development, ongoing learning, and flexibility are just as compelling as traditional incentives like salary increases and promotions. This shift in focus towards holistic employee well-being and development is becoming central to successful talent management strategies in the modern workplace.

Looking forward, HR teams are increasingly confronted with the challenge of navigating increasingly disrupted and non-linear career paths. In this evolving landscape, employees are more likely to pivot into different roles or even entirely different industries, necessitating a strategic shift in HR practices. To thrive in this new normal, HR professionals must develop and implement strategies that not only accommodate but also leverage these changes effectively. This includes recognising the value of transferable skills, facilitating internal mobility, and championing lifelong learning to help employees stay adaptable in the face of ever-changing business demands. Such a forward-looking approach can also uncover hidden talent within the organisation, paving the way for unexpected and innovative internal progression paths.

The role of technology in career development is paramount and continues to evolve. Digital learning and development platforms have become increasingly sophisticated, offering personalised learning journeys that align with both individual career aspirations and broader business objectives. This trajectory is expected to persist, with artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics poised to play an even larger role in identifying skill gaps and recommending tailored development opportunities. These technological advancements not only make career development more accessible but also enable HR teams to fine-tune their strategies based on real-time data and individual needs.

Furthermore, the concept of ‘career lattices’ is gaining momentum. Departing from the traditional career ladder, which implies a singular upward trajectory, a lattice model allows for moves in various directions – upward, lateral, or even downward – thereby accommodating the diverse career aspirations of the modern workforce. This approach aligns well with the contemporary workforce’s desire for diverse experiences and the need to continuously adapt to new roles and responsibilities. Embracing career lattices can empower employees to explore varied career paths while simultaneously fostering a skills-focused approach to career development, reflecting the dynamic nature of today’s professional landscape.

Reversing the trends that are affecting working patterns and sometimes drastically altering traditional work practices is impossible. However, organisations can work to retain and develop their talent by implementing a multifaceted approach. They must offer competitive compensation, provide transparent communication about career opportunities, and foster a culture that values and supports professional growth. A clear focus on professional development is a priority requirement now seen as increasingly important.

Research in this area conducted by Deloitte in 2017 demonstrated that an active programme to support individuals in their efforts to acquire new skills, undergo re-education and develop their careers is vital. Businesses should offer mentoring and coaching programmes, as well as a range of development opportunities that cater to diverse employee needs and learning styles. The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report ranked Learning and Development as the second most significant concern among business and HR leaders. Furthermore, it revealed that 83% of companies were in the process of restructuring their career development initiatives.

There are already many examples of positive and effective practice in the whole area of developing learning, reskilling, stronger onboarding and the use of transition-management programs. Some instances outlined in the Deloitte report are given here, as ideas to extend thinking and counter the sometimes anxious or nebulous responses that HR can make to the challenge of change.

• Making learning and content accessible to employees of all levels at no cost (For instance, Bank of America offered a prepaid ‘credit card’ for employees to enhance their skills)
• Investing in an extensive library of training materials for employees to utilise (IBM and GE have obtained licenses for courses and content from numerous companies and have negotiated pay-per-use agreements)
• Fostering a culture of learning among management: incentivising managers to develop their staff, re-engineering the performance management process to prioritise development, and offering incentives to managers who hire internal candidates over external ones (AT&T centred its entire corporate culture around the ongoing upskilling of its workforce)
• Establishing career pathways and self-assessment tools to assist employees in identifying new job opportunities and career paths within the organisation (IBM implemented this approach)
• Creating Learning and Development programmes to enable employees to acquire hybrid skills; skills like design thinking, visualisation, project management, problem-solving, communication, and other soft skills are in high demand, and standardised programmes promote career flexibility and the adoption of consistent practices
• Appointing a Chief Learning Officer with a dedicated corporate budget to oversee and manage learning solutions across all business units and functional areas
• Investing in onboarding programmes and transition-management initiatives to assist individuals in transitioning to new roles (Royal Bank of Canada developed a year-long new-hire programme for branch bankers, catering to both new employees and transfers)

The future of career development and internal progression is undoubtedly characterised by increased flexibility, greater reliance on technology, and a more personalised approach to employee growth. Companies that embrace these changes and invest in their talent will be well-positioned to navigate the challenges of the future workplace. As the world of work continues to evolve, companies that are proactive in addressing these trends will not only succeed in retaining their talent but will also become more resilient and adaptable in the face of change.

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