Recruiting and retaining a talented workforce is an ongoing struggle for many employers today, especially as younger individuals enter the workforce. Companies recognize that turnover is extremely expensive when lost productivity and replacement costs are taken into account. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, it costs on average six to nine months’ salary to replace a salaried employee – highlighting the importance of retention.

Employees consistently rank career advancement opportunities as an important factor in accepting and keeping a job. One strategy that is gaining traction as a way to increase employee retention and grow talent organically is career pathing. In the MRINetwork 2017 Millennial Hiring Trends Study, more than half of Millennials (53 percent) said that career pathing has the most impact on their decision to stay with their employer.

Career pathing is a comprehensive process offered by employers that asks employees to take an honest look at their career goals, skills, education, experience and personal characteristics. Employees are then asked to make a plan for achieving what is necessary in each of these areas in order for them to advance within the company, providing both employees and employers with a clear understanding of what it takes for workers to move from their current position to where they want to be. Employees are empowered to take ownership of their career performance and to align their career goals with the strategic goals of the organization.

Taking a career pathing approach requires rethinking traditional career ladders, which typically involve a progression of jobs within a certain field based on increasing levels of responsibility and pay. Millennials want to see that they have clear and defined opportunities for advancement, and if they feel stuck or bored with their jobs, they tend to seek other employment after they have gained a few years of experience. With career pathing, they have the means to sharpen their skills and earn promotions within their current organizations, and this serves as a deterrent to leaving a job in order to advance.

Implementing a Career Pathing Program

As a first step, it is critical that you fully grasp your company’s needs and what you want to accomplish from a career pathing program, whether it’s reducing turnover or boosting employee engagement. Once you have determined the direction you want to take, you can begin to formulate your program:

Identify the goals of your employees. Meet with them to evaluate their skills, experience and education and to create a career roadmap. The object is to compare their current abilities and qualifications to their short- and long-term career paths and determine what additional experience and skills are needed. Be honest and transparent in your feedback to avoid future employee dissatisfaction.

Establish a clear communication plan. Ensure that your employees know that career pathing exists, how it will benefit them and how they can access the program. Remind them about opportunities for growth such as mentoring and training on a regular basis. Use ongoing performance reviews, and not just an annual review, to keep track of career path progress and to determine if further steps are need to help employees reach their goals.

Use data analytics to adjust your program.  – Analyzing external data on salaries and benefit offerings in your marketplace can help you determine whether your compensation package is competitive. Even a good career pathing program won’t prevent turnover if you fall significantly below your competitors. Internal data derived from employee surveys, management feedback and exit interview should also be factored into career pathing planning.

Since career pathing both attracts and fosters retention of talented candidates, it simply makes sense to incorporate career pathing into your talent management strategy. Your end goal is to make sure that a valued employee never tells you during an exit interview: “I’m leaving the company to advance my career and take on new challenges.”

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