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Leveraging Employee Career Pathing to Build a Talent Pipeline

  • 7 Min Read

Get insights from industry thought leaders on what career pathing is, the risks of not adopting it and examples of how it can work for businesses.


It’s a tight labor market out there: The number of open jobs is high, and the number of people looking for work is low. Recent data shows that there are nearly 9.5 million open jobs in the U.S. and only 6.5 million people without work

With the challenge of filling open roles looming, how can companies plan to ensure current and future jobs get filled? 

One option is to invest in career pathing. In this post, we’ll explore what career pathing is, the risks of not adopting it and examples of how it can work for businesses. 

What Is Career Pathing?

According to Gartner, career pathing aligns employee career growth opportunities with organizational goals and priorities. Career paths can be linear or cross between different verticals and departments. The key is making the connection between the skills and interests an employee currently holds to career objectives and scaffolding in the right educational support to get them there. 

During an interview with D2L, Chike Aguh, senior advisor at The Project on Workforce at Harvard University, shared an example of how reinvestments in semiconductor fabrication can inspire career pathing. 

“There are jobs that are in some ways applications of old jobs, but in new spaces,” said Aguh, adding that there hasn’t been a semiconductor fabrication plant in America in over 30 years. Recently, the federal government and institutions have made investments in education to create career paths in order to build advanced manufacturing skills and get workers into open jobs in this resurging market. 

For Aguh, it’s about figuring out how to take skills of related jobs and create a path to get these workers into semiconductor fabrication.

“We’re thinking: How can we take advanced manufacturing skills and construction skills to build a semiconductor fab?” he said. “These are the same skills that we used to build factories back in the day—a lot of the advanced manufacturing skills that you’ve seen in things like automotive—but are entirely or relatively new in the modern era tasks for America.” 

By creating a path for workers to apply their skills in new ways, open jobs can be filled faster and employees—whether they’re looking to reskill or upskill—can reach new career goals. 

The Downside of Not Developing Employee Career Paths

Not having defined career paths for employees can lead their eyes to wander to other opportunities.  

In an interview with D2L, Steve Cadigan, LinkedIn’s first CHRO, shared how the internet has enabled people to conduct more extensive job searches and company research before applying to open roles. Workers can more easily discover—and be tempted by—alternative career paths if they’re not feeling seen or satisfied in their current roles.  

Cadigan said a lot of the turnover is being driven by employees seeing other companies working with new tech or innovative products. This drives them to start questioning whether they’re growing as fast as they are staying in their current roles. 

“That anxiety, the fear of missing out on something, is driving a lot of uncertainty that’s causing people to not only change jobs but also change career paths at a degree that we’ve never seen before,” he said. 

Investing in employee career pathing not only helps attract top talent but also helps retain and grow talent already within the company. 

What Career Pathing Can Look Like

Linear Career Paths

A straightforward career path—like studying accounting in college and becoming an accountant—can be considered traditional in the modern workforce. 

Another example would be a construction worker moving up the ranks: starting as a project coordinator, upskilling to become a project manager and then pursuing more learning to add “senior” to their title. 

While this traditional type of employee career path is still a common route to pursue, skill mapping development is shaking it up. Modern technology—like that created to pull and analyze real-time labor market data—is creating links between similar skills in seemingly unrelated careers to create new branches of nonlinear career pathing. 

Nonlinear Career Paths

As technology advances and workers crave more challenges and growth, employee career paths have evolved. As organizational goals change, companies need to be more creative when aligning skills across different jobs to help fill foreseeable gaps while also encouraging employee development in new ways. 

During his interview with D2L, Aguh gave an example of how a person experiencing unemployment can use career pathing to get a job in a field that may not be obviously aligned with their previous work. 

“Ideally, we help you figure out what capacity and skills you have and where to go next,” he said, giving the example of somebody who was a manager in a restaurant kitchen.  

“When the waiters came in with the orders, you told them what stove to go to and when something came off the stove, you said what table it should go to. We find a skill overlap between that and a line manager in a factory,” explained Aguh. 

It now becomes a matter of defining the career path to upskill that worker so they can get the job they want. 

“Maybe you need to get a certification, or you should get a job doing something in the middle that’ll give you that last bit of skills that everybody needs to get there,” said Aguh.  

While this example relates to unemployment, the same career pathing tactics can be used to upskill employees. 

Thinking outside the box on how skills can be applied in new ways is a story Cadigan is also familiar with. When he was working at LinkedIn, his team uncovered a need for Python developers but was met with the challenge of having a limited pool of external candidates with the required skills to pull from. 

Using LinkedIn’s resources, Cadigan and his team looked at the skills Python developers had before they got into the field. This allowed the team to find a correlation between the skills Python developers had before they learned Python and see if other workers who could do the same could be identified. 

“We found a pattern. When we mapped that to our employees, we found about 15 people who had the attributes that gave us a good level of confidence they could [learn Python] well and learn it quickly,” said Cadigan. 

LinkedIn reached out to the identified employees, offering a boot camp to learn the skills needed to head down this new career path. This solution may not have been discovered without considering nonlinear career paths. 

Internal Knowledge Sharing

Another way to develop employee career paths is through internal knowledge sharing and succession planning. 

During an interview with D2L, Mary Bollash, engineering learning and development officer at Carrier Global Corporation, shared how her organization uses a theory developed by Dorothy Leonard. 

To start, 150 experts were identified and prioritized across Carrier. Then, triads were created between the experts, one or more nextperts (next expert) and a manager or coach. 

“Those triads worked together to create a plan for knowledge sharing,” said Bollash, adding that the plans were very focused and intentional. Using herself as a nextpert in the example, she explained more: “When the expert and I have agreed that I’ve mastered this or that or have seen enough, then I get to practice. When you and I have agreed … that I’ve managed to hit that next set of milestones, then we continue on with our partnership until ultimately, I’m also an expert. Our boss now has two experts, not just one.” 

By aligning the desires of the nextpert with their expert, an employee career path is created in order to advance the knowledge needed for growth. 

Another less linear way to approach knowledge sharing is through job rotations.  

“We need sharing of knowledge to be greater, and we also need to move people around intentionally,” said Cadigan during his chat with D2L. “We’ve always known job rotations are valuable. If you think about it in a highly fluid world of work, it’s the ultimate insurance policy. If you leave and someone did your job last year, I’m good with putting someone else back in that until we hire someone new.” 

Developing Career Paths to Future-Proof the Workforce

With a variety of career pathing options available, developing a plan to promote internal employee mobility is an achievable goal for many businesses.  

Whether using a linear or nonlinear approach, investing in employee career paths will show workers they’re valued and that their growth is important to the company. 

Looking to get a head start on upskilling your employees? Check out D2L for Business to learn how. 

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Table of Contents
  1. What Is Career Pathing?
  2. The Downside of Not Developing Employee Career Paths
  3. What Career Pathing Can Look Like
  4. Developing Career Paths to Future-Proof the Workforce