Coronavirus and the Reemergence of Career Mapping

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David Rice

Career maps are crucial to employee engagement, professional development and career progression.

The trajectory of the average worker’s career path has shifted significantly over the last 50 years, largely falling into their own hands since the advent of the internet. Its arrival came during a transfer of jobs from manufacturing to the knowledge sector and rang in an era that increased the ease with which someone can find a new job.

As a result, the idea of staying at one company for decades until retirement has faded in popularity and employee turnover increased, leading some organizations to give up on the employee experience strategy of career mapping, or at the very least, de-prioritize it.

And the same held true for workers largely. There has been a focus in recent years on things like employee enrichment, career development through decentralized platforms and increased flexibility. Job stability and security were not as high on the list of things job seekers were looking for and there was little evidence to suggest that was going to change.

The Pandemic Effect

As with most things in the current climate, times are changing quickly for HR professionals as once record low unemployment numbers soar in the wake of coronavirus, flooding the market with job seekers. Where in recent times it has been a challenge for companies to keep hold of their best talent, they suddenly find themselves in a landscape where employees are more inclined to show loyalty and have a greater interest in mapping out their future within an organization rather than seeking new opportunities elsewhere.

This leaves organizations in an interesting position as workers now begin to see their future unfolding within the company’s ranks. Career mapping, therefore, is likely something the HR professional will be hearing more about from employees within their organizations in the coming months, as the job market sees greater competition for fewer opportunities.

As budgets dwindle and companies cope with COVID-19’s impact on their business, past investment of time and faith in current employees is a strategy that will prove to be valuable.

“I think this is a moment of reckoning for organizations and leaders,” Sarah Johnson, Vice President of Enterprise Surveys and Analytics at Perceptyx said. “Companies that haven’t invested in their employees or thought about the value of engaging employees in the past are now reaping what they’ve sown versus organizations that have always invested in their employees and built their capabilities. Those companies can now rely on that bank of engagement capital and their employees will do what it takes to get the organization through this.”

READ: When is the Best Time to Survey Employees? Now!

Reports from Deloitte following the economic downturn of 2008 reveal that following a crisis, as the economy and jobs sector begin to rebound, voluntary turnover increases substantially. The cost of then increasing recruitment efforts, plugging talent gaps and investing in company culture and employee development as a reactive measure is significant.

The engagement involved in career mapping can deepen the bond an employee feels to the company that saw them through this period and can go a long way toward preventing a post crisis talent drain.

Becoming Career Cartographers

With so many job seekers on the market, organizations need to be selective in who they hire and now is the time to get the company’s approach to career mapping right.

Ultimately, career mapping allows the organization to prioritize satisfaction and career growth and thus, develop the workforce they require while increasing the attractiveness of the company to the caliber of talent needed to fill skills gaps. Now, when employees are more invested in job stability and security, is the time to invest in career mapping strategies.

READ: The Art of Career Mapping: HR's Guide to Reskilling the Workforce

In order to get there, HR departments have to view the career map from a few different angles. Traditionally, career paths are viewed a couple different ways.

The first, is the career ladder, or the way in which a person advances in position during their time with the company and more often than not, in a specific area. But given the climate and the structure of many companies today, HR teams can’t realistically promise a position on the ladder or a way to climb it.

The second is what is often referred to as the career lattice, a sort of choose your own experience technique for giving employees the freedom to make sideways moves in the quest for new skills and new paths forward. The lattice should become a renewed area of focus, encouraging employees to explore sideways moves within the organization that help them develop other skill sets. As Elkay Manufacturing’s Larry Brand told HR Exchange Network in November:

“The lattice means you could move one to the left, one to the right, one up.  In larger organizations you’ll have a millennial that will even take a small step down if they know getting that learning experience means they can take one step up in 18-months to two years.”

The key to the lattice is the communication of opportunity to the employee through career mapping efforts, as it paints a clearer picture of their options and enhances their understanding of the organization as a whole.

The lattice approach has a knock on effect for cost as it drives down the need for recruitment of new employees in the long run, creating potential solutions from within rather than consistently looking outward to meet talent needs. Preparing workers for long term employability with the organization, should they possess the ambition, will help with the retention of younger workers and the overall turnover rate.

Effective career mapping essentially occurs in three stages that the HR professional has to consider.

  1. Assessment – Managers should engage direct reports to explore their past experience and accomplishments as well as their interests, and consider how their current knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) can fuel the pursuit of their goals.
  2. Customization – The question then becomes what other positions within the company could provide a good fit for the individual given the person’s experience and would suit their interests and personal goals. It may represent a lateral move, but at the same time capitalize on their skills in a different way and offer them an opportunity to develop new KSAs.
  3. Exploration – Finally, when new opportunities do become available, it’s time to encourage employees to explore them and find their path forward.