Kasey LynchNovember 20, 2023
Topics: Employee Experience

Career Pathing Guide: What is it & Why is it Important?

Today's best organizations and leaders know that career development is of top priority, and mutually beneficial for employees and the company for which they work. Continuous learning paired with ongoing growth opportunities is essential for creating an impactful employee experience — and long-term retention. 

The challenge, however, is that many companies are falling short when it comes to providing the experience, resources, and opportunities employees need to grow, evolve, and move within the workplace.

In fact, 74% of workers say that a lack of employee development opportunities is preventing them from reaching their full potential, while 89% of employees want training to be available anywhere and anytime. 

As workers demand more learning and development opportunities, companies need to find the right ways to improve visibility into potential career paths, while taking into account that the path for each individual is unique. 

To ensure each employee has the tools they need to take charge of their careers, career pathing should be integrated as a critical component of an organization’s retention strategy. As a result, your organization can retain its high-value employees by providing visibility into internal movement, offering continual opportunities for growth, and supporting individuals as they achieve their goals. 

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about career pathing, including: 

  • What defines career pathing and why it’s important 

  • How career pathing improves the employee experience 

  • Must-have elements in an effective career pathing strategy 

  • AI-powered technology that streamlines career pathing implementation 

  • How talent acquisition teams can use internal candidates to fill critical roles faster

  • Recommended metrics to assess the success of your strategy

What is career pathing?

Career pathing is the process by which employees grow, develop, and progress within an organization, and reach individual goals while helping the company fulfill its mission and purpose. 

Career paths give employees multiple routes to move professionally throughout the business in linear or non-linear progressions, which expands skills and knowledge that can lead to mastery in their current role — and prepare them for future promotions or transfers to new departments. 

Career pathing is one of the very best ways to drive employee engagement, but it’s not a siloed effort. The entire organization benefits from career pathing efforts, from leaders to managers to employees. Leaders should incorporate best practices into their comprehensive talent management strategy and ensure continuous, transparent communication while employees take charge of their unique journeys. 

At the same time, people managers should empower their employees to identify career paths and new internal opportunities, career and skill development, connect with their coworkers, and refer people from their networks. 

Combining a top-down and bottom-up approach helps ensure alignment across the board while engaging employees throughout the process. Now let’s take a look at the impact career pathing can have on employee experiences.

How career pathing elevates employee experiences

Without career pathing, employees are often left wondering how they fit into the overall structure and future success of the organization. Ultimately, this lack of direction can lead them to look externally for new opportunities when they’re ready to take on more responsibility. 

Career pathing software (in addition to a robust strategy) highlights what’s possible using pertinent data from employee profiles, and creating unique career paths that help individuals visualize their potential growth, whether laterally or vertically. On the flip side, this also shows HR leaders best-fit individuals who are available to fill critical roles now or in the future. 

Spoiler alert: By combining career pathing with learning and development, you create a winning combination that illuminates possibilities while giving talent actionable next steps to help them get where they want to go. 

Let’s take a closer look at all the elements that make up a successful and engaging career pathing program. 

1. Connecting talent to opportunities for growth 

Each employee has their own ambitions, sources of inspiration, and plans for their future, all of which influence how they show up in their current roles and drive their different needs to acquire specific skill sets. 

Career pathing software needs to be intelligent to understand each unique individual’s experience, skills, preferences, interests, location, and more. All of this data will help create a career path that’s relevant for an employee. Pairing a personalized career plan with next steps removes any confusion about what an employee needs to do to get to the next level. 

If growth opportunities are missing, confusing, or hidden, a particular career pathway can start to feel like a pipe dream — discouraging employees from sticking around since they know where they want to go, but lack clarity on how to get there. 

By implementing an internal talent marketplace, companies can highlight the personalized career paths and simultaneously offer personalized recommendations for gigs or short-term projects, courses, and mentorships that support each employee along their journey. 

But internal talent marketplaces equipped with a career pathing program don’t solely benefit employees — they unlock valuable insights for leaders too. Through workforce intelligence, leaders can gain a better understanding of individual employees, their aspirations, their skills, their interests, and more. 

When powered by workforce intelligence, career pathing highlights which individuals are available and interested in upskilling to prepare them for their next career milestone. Leaders and managers can leverage this knowledge to advertise internal roles that will be available in the future, expanding the talent pool for recruiters and reducing the need to wonder if that candidate is a culture fit since they’re already an employee. 

This level of transparency helps leaders align employee development with business goals — a covetable match made in heaven. 

2. The impact of internal mobility 

Focusing on career development is another positive, effective way to boost internal mobility.

Leveraging career pathing tools to highlight opportunities for internal mobility sparks engagement, and showcases specific moves that employees can take to continue working toward their desired end goal at the company. 

But internal mobility doesn’t solely refer to long-term career moves. It can also refer to short-term gigs or projects that help foster talent agility in the face of unexpected challenges that impact the business. 

Let’s take a look at the main differences between these two types of internal mobility: 

  • Long-term internal mobility focuses on the next career milestone an individual can step into at your organization. This can be a horizontal or vertical move depending on their desired career path. A horizontal move looks like moving internally from one department or team to another. Vertical mobility refers to a promotion or step-up into a more leadership role. 

  • Short-term internal mobility is a critical component that helps make long-term mobility possible. By taking on short-term projects or gigs, employees can get hands-on experience while shifting around their capacity to take on more work that may or may not be related to their existing job responsibilities. This type of mobility redistributes talent throughout the organization to assist with various projects aligned with company goals without having to increase workforce headcount to do so. 

These are just two benefits of fostering internal mobility through career pathing programs in the short term. When looking at the benefits long-term, highlighting internal opportunities can empower individuals to connect with their manager and talk through their career options. 

When a new internal position provokes an employee’s interest, managers can discuss the best way to help prepare them for pursuing that new role. It also allows leaders to focus on succession planning and backfilling, ensuring critical roles are consistently covered while individuals move to different teams and departments. 

As a result, employees gain more hands-on experience while achieving their goals, the company culture starts to empower career development which goes a long way with recruiting new candidates, and businesses can enjoy better performance and productivity. 

That’s a true win-win-win scenario. Let’s take a look at another way companies can connect employees with great opportunities while supporting shifting business needs. 

SUCCESS STORY: How Kuehne+Nagel Leverages Employee Experience to Empower Inside Talent 

3. Gigs for acquiring hands-on experience 

We briefly hit on this idea earlier, but let’s take a deep dive into what an internal gig marketplace can do for your workforce. 

With career pathing, "I got the gig!" takes on a new meaning within the employee experience. Instead of a full-time permanent role, gigs or short-term projects offer exposure to new professional experiences and projects. 

Whether one-time, short-term projects, or long-term organizational endeavors, gigs fuel engagement and development, increasing efficiency and fostering agility across the workforce as a whole. Gigs also offer a unique opportunity for employees to validate their skills with real-world experience, while at the same time, posing low risk to the organization. 

For example, let's say an organization's community team needs help with a special project that calls for more activity across the organization's social media channels, and the company's data analyst is well-versed in social media. With gigs, the data analyst could become part of the project and lend a hand to help meet their new social media output goal. 

This kind of fluidity and flexibility goes a long way when fostering engagement and proving that your business is truly committed to helping its employees thrive. 

Pro tip: Sharing successful gig stories through employee user-generated content is a fantastic way to highlight the company culture on your career site. 

RELATED: Movement Matters: How Managers Should Reinvent and Encourage Career Growth 

Why technology, AI, and automation are essential for career pathing 

Career pathing technology enables employees to identify the paths that are available to them within an organization, by making internal career opportunities known, and aligning the requirements to employees' different skills, knowledge, and interests. It works similarly to the way gigs provide experience, and how learning and development provide resources and training. 

Although the general components of a career pathing program are the same, the technology that powers them can be drastically different. So how do you determine which career pathing tool is the best fit for your organization? Here are three must-have elements that transition traditional career pathing into intelligent career pathing: 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

Career pathing tools built on AI and ML elevate the way your career pathing programs function by providing additional context to the data that you have available within your employee profiles and organizational databases. 

For example, instead of your new program viewing job titles as siloed pieces of information, an AI-powered program can interpret the job titles and how they’re related to other jobs within the department or organization as a whole. The right technology can also pair skills to job titles and find commonalities either in individuals who held certain roles in the past or based on job descriptions. 

This context allows the career pathing software to make better recommendations for employees by interpreting the connections between roles and matching those roles with individual profiles that have the highest likelihood of being interested in those positions.

For example, it’s easy to assume a junior product marketer’s career path could include a product marketing manager role. However, depending on the individual’s interests, their recommendations could include an inside sales position or customer marketing role. The non-logical recommendations are where AI and ML play a pivotal role in illuminating possibilities for a more personalized experience. 

Dynamic Skills Architectures and Skills Ontologies 

It’s not enough to know what your employees are looking for in their careers. Businesses that want to boost retention and better adapt to new challenges need to gain a deep understanding of what skills are available within their existing workforce. 

Unfortunately today, most skills only have a shelf life of five years, which means reskilling and redeploying talent is something every business will have to do. But without gaining insight into what skills gaps exist and what upskilling opportunities are available to help close them, leaders are left guessing about the right moves to make. 

This is where skills ontologies come in. This piece of technology helps assess, identify, categorize, and interpret skills relationships within an organization. By creating a universal understanding of skills, how they’re related to each other, and if they’re weakly or strongly related to each other, your company can create a dynamic skills architecture that offers additional context surrounding your workforce. 

Dynamic skills architectures help remove the guesswork by highlighting exactly what skills are available, what skills gaps exist, and if there’s internal talent that can be trained to close gaps or if external talent is needed to better support the business goals. 

But what is a skills architecture? Simply put, it’s a massive graph of connected skills that help leaders visualize what employees are capable of doing. When what a workforce is equipped to accomplish is compared to what a business wants to achieve, you can see the overlap where the goals align and the gaps that need to be filled. This is similar to a Venn diagram of skills. 

By implementing a career pathing tool that leverages AI to create a dynamic skills architecture, allowing in-depth insights into the existing workforce beyond what their career goals are, your business can start to make more informed decisions. 

Related: Empowering People, Driving Success: The Impact of Skills Data in Modern Orgs

Personalized Learning and Development

There are many benefits of personalized learning when driven by career pathing data. 

Imagine you created an entire library of learning materials that employees could reference to gain new skills, explore different areas of the business, and gain hands-on experience. But instead of knowing exactly what would help them, you left employees to their own devices. 

They were in charge of combing through the hundreds or thousands of resources to guess which pieces of information would help them accomplish their career goals. That sounds overwhelming doesn’t it? 

When you pair career pathing tools with personalized learning, you can remove confusion and accelerate how individuals move from point A to point B. With customized learning recommendations based on talent’s interests, skills, intended career path, preferences, and expertise, employees enjoy a truly personalized experience that lets them know exactly what their next step should be. Plus, leadership unlocks critical insights into who is engaged in upskilling opportunities to strengthen their understanding of potential succession planning options. 

Within a talent marketplace, employees can easily see which resources are recommended for them based on their current role or intended future role — plus feel empowered to connect with leadership for additional support when pursuing their next career milestone. A platform that can interpret all of the data for thousands of employees and create personalized learning experiences for each one is extremely valuable. 

8 Reasons to Invest in Career Pathing Tools

1. Career pathing and empowerment go hand-in-hand

In 2022, 63% of employees reported that they left a job the year prior due to inadequate growth opportunities. With career pathing, employers invest in their people; and in turn, that investment sets the business up for future success — and it's all based on empowering individuals to envision a career move and make the moves needed to get there with support from their managers. 

2. Career pathing helps employees do what they love

By pairing career pathing opportunities with learning and development, specifically gigs, individuals can gain more exposure to different areas of the business they might have a genuine interest in. This freedom to explore while contributing to company goals can foster creativity and problem-solving in a way that doesn’t detract from the business. 

3. Organizations benefit from a retention boost by using career pathing

Typically when employees start searching for a new role, they look outside of their current company. Most often, employees don’t consider an internal position or career shift as a potential career option. Here’s why: Employees might not be able to envision a future at their company — nor can they see what’s in it for them if they stay.

By erasing confusion and highlighting exactly what internal options are available within your business, you help employees clearly visualize their potential within your company walls. Once employees identify and start to navigate toward their ideal careers within your company, they don't want to leave and take a risk by jumping to an external organization to start over from ground zero. 

Related: The Path of Least Resistance: Aligning Opportunity and Trajectory for Successful Employee Career Pathing

4. Internal mobility creates and facilitates non-linear career paths

Internal mobility lends a helping hand to employees in identifying ways their skillset could be used in multiple areas of the business, and it motivates them to discover new or different roles they may have not realized they were a good fit for. 

Take a closer look at the impact of internal mobility on talent agility within an organization in this article

5. Gigs allow employees to build their experience in an individual way

Gigs' claim to fame is their ability to help employees validate their skills with real-world experience. A gig strategy is low-risk for an organization because with it, employees become more efficient, discover different parts of the business, and still engage in their full-time role. 

6. AI-powered technology makes career pathing better for everyone

With AI-powered technology, employees can quickly see their potential career paths — including horizontal and vertical moves — plus actionable recommendations that help them acquire the skills they need to make that next career move. 

AI-powered career pathing also improves visibility for managers and HR leaders so they can support employees on their unique journey while aligning growth with the needs of the business. This improved visibility for each key stakeholder group allows for a better understanding of where everyone is now and what’s possible in the future. 

Kickstart Career Pathing with Phenom

Phenom's collection of employee experience tools will help leaders motivate employees to find new opportunities within the organization, and develop skills to help them achieve goals related to growth. 

We’ve packaged up all the tools your teams need to implement an effective and impactful career pathing strategy. Through Phenom Talent Marketplace, you can unlock the potential of your workforce and boost retention along the way. 

Our talent marketplace is equipped with:

  • Intelligent career pathing: This feature is designed to illuminate the career paths that are available for each employee, evolving over time. Powered by Phenom AI, this feature offers intelligent recommendations and allows you to gain a better understanding of how your employees move between jobs, guiding employees toward their next role and providing valuable insights for executive teams and managers.

  • Gigs and short-term projects: These hands-on learning opportunities are available to engage and upskill employees while supporting the needs of the business. Through a “gig model,” organizations can quickly adjust staffing volume to meet the needs of consumers and the market. 

  • Learning and development features: These elements play a critical role in your employee’s experience. Phenom Talent Marketplace is engineered to allow integration with your existing LMS and LXP programs to deliver a robust and tailored learning experience for your employees. It helps create a clearer path of learning and development, inspiring your workforce to develop new skills instead of overwhelming them. 

  • Mentoring opportunities: This feature is designed to proactively engage employees, connecting emerging talent with individuals that will help guide them to new opportunities in both formal and informal settings. Mentorship programs can deepen the connection an employee has with their organization. It can be easy to leave a job, but it’s harder to leave a relationship. 

  • Employee Resource Groups (ERG): Designed to offer an inclusive environment and play an important role in an employee’s career path, ERGs make finding a community within the workforce simple. Upon joining an ERG, employees are exposed to colleagues and resources that can connect them to future opportunities — like professional development opportunities, open jobs, or short-term gigs. Employees can also connect and engage with potential mentors within ERGs.

Once your organization implements a talent marketplace that collects employee data in real-time, talent managers and managers can start leveraging other solutions to foster more strategic decision-making, understand skills at the team and organizational level, support succession planning, flag potential employee flight risks, and interpret organizational talent trends so you can stay ahead. 

All of these features are made possible through Phenom X+ so your team has easy access to: 

  • Workforce Intelligence provides talent management teams with context and oversight into talent within their organization to ensure they are appropriately onboarded, retained, and developed. A dashboard provides hiring trends, churn rate, retention risks, and high performers. 

  • Dynamic role architecture to analyze skills, competencies, and additional contexts to determine which employees are available to upskill or reskill into future roles, and create initiatives to spur action.

  • Comprehensive employee profiles are used to identify tenure, performance, growth trajectory, fit for openings and progressions, and options for succession planning.

  • Skills intelligence to determine where gaps and training needs exist, providing visibility into endorsed skills, self-reported skills, open jobs and roles that require skills, and the learning opportunities, mentors, and gig projects available to address gaps. 

  • Employee Relationship Management — supported by workforce intelligence — enables talent management and people managers to take appropriate action such as initiating an upskilling project to acquire new skills to enhance one’s job performance or career advancements.

  • Succession Planning facilitates growth, development, and movement within the organization, providing a means to plan for the future. It identifies existing employees who are suitable for succession for specific roles, and determines eligibility and readiness based on tenure, performance, skills, competencies, and other relevant signals. This feature makes it easy to add new employees to a succession plan, evaluate which successors have been assigned to specific roles, and move and grow employees in the organization.

  • People Manager provides business leaders with the actionable intelligence they need to build high-performing teams by surfacing an employee’s current sentiment, career growth plans, learning opportunities, recommendations for upskilling/reskilling, and overall talent retention effectiveness. It also simplifies the process of endorsing a direct report’s skills.

Discover how you can engage, evolve, and retain your employees with Phenom by booking a personalized demo with our team today.

Kasey Lynch

Kasey is a content marketing writer, focused on highlighting the importance of positive experiences. She's passionate about SEO strategy, collaboration, and data analytics. In her free time, she enjoys camping, cooking, exercising, and spending time with her loved ones — including her dog, Rocky. 

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