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The Future of Work

Is It Just A Job Or Is It A Career? How To Address The Employment Gap

Amy Meyers
Dallas Oberlee
Brad Hershbein
February 05, 2017

As industries like manufacturing become more technical and require advanced skills, many employers struggle to retain experienced workers. It doesn't help that many employees can't identify a future career or attain appropriate technical training within their companies. As one logistics company in Michigan found, one solution is to develop a clear career path for workers.





In this competitive talent marketplace, one of the biggest worries for employers this year is retaining skilled workers, while industries like manufacturing become more technical and require advanced skills. Many current employees struggle to identify their future within the company and some, not finding a good answer or the tech training to advance, may jump to a different employer for only a few cents more an hour.

One solution for employers is developing clear career paths for all employees. This means when new workers are hired, they receive information on these career paths, providing motivation for them to grow within the company and providing employers the opportunity to “grow their own.”

This information provided to new hires can demonstrate how to move along the path to continued career growth and success within the organization, as well as when these strategic movements can happen. Career paths should be inclusive of both interpersonal skills, such as communication and leadership, and technical skills, specific to industry and positions within an organization. Not only do employees benefit from seeing the range of available positions, skill requirements and salary levels, they benefit in seeing the timeframe for opportunities to further advance on their career path.

Furthermore, leaders of companies that have implemented designated career paths have noted that developing the paths gave them the opportunity to view their own organizational structure through a different and more focused lens. They could more carefully evaluate position responsibilities and growth expectations of employees.

The box below illustrates an example of this approach for one career path within a logistics company:



One manufacturing company in Michigan that adopted career paths has seen positive impact, with an executive noting: “The pathways are giving our employees clear direction to grow in our company… they are now empowered to control their pay and their skill growth. We have also noticed, in making this information available, employees are looking at their department with a more holistic approach, as opposed to just looking at their assigned responsibilities in their position.”

Career pathways are even more effective when the employer provides training to the incumbent workforce, giving employees the opportunity and confidence to advance from their current position to the next level. Importantly, such training does not have to be burdensome or expensive for employers. Implementation of a career pathway model can help build a network of trainers within the company, and a variety of grants for such purposes may be available from state and local workforce development agencies. Employees may also be eligible for personal grant funds, such as Federal Pell Grants or private scholarships. Through the development and implementation of career pathways, employers can identify the specific programs and training that are required for advancement down a selected path, and they can help their workers access relevant funding opportunities.

Why don’t more employers provide these clear career paths? Unfortunately, many employers are not yet familiar with them, and while workforce development agencies have grants available for assisting career path implementation, they have less money available for outreach. Also, the initial development can require some upfront time and resources—as all promising investments do—that businesses may believe to be out of reach due to short-term economic pressures.

When employees know the growth opportunities available within an organization and know they can get the additional training to access those opportunities, work can become a career and not just a job. And employers who provide such opportunities can have more success in hiring—and retaining—the workers they need.

(Top photo: Courtesy Getty Images.)


Brad Hershbein is an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

Amy Meyers, as the Policy and Planning Manager for the Employment Management Services Division of the W.E. Upjohn Institute, assists in the development of local workforce development program plans and implementation of policies and procedures.

Dallas Oberlee has worked in workforce development for over ten years focusing on connecting employers with talent in her current role as the Director of Program Operations for the Employment Management Services Division of the W.E. Upjohn Institute.

All views expressed are those of the authors.