3 ways to create sustainable career development

Agile, sustainable career development is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s imperative to success. Talent is no longer staying still, so what can leaders do to offer future-focused careers guidance?
SEP 07, 2023
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Linear careers are rare these days. Gone are the days in which an employee could expect to enter a company in a junior position and work their way up through the ranks to eventually arrive at a senior managerial role. Now, non-linear career paths are the norm: the average person changes jobs every 2.7 years and can expect to have multiple careers in their lifetime.


This makes agile and sustainable career management imperative. Talent is no longer staying still, and leaders need to have the skills and determination to offer future-focused careers guidance if they are to thrive. Taking these 3 steps will help them to build agility and sustainability into their career development programs.


Actively promote internal career mobility


The traditional career pathway dictates that progression goes from bottom to top, but that doesn’t have to be the only option. Promoting internal career mobility is a great strategy for building employee morale and loyalty; a 2019 Deloitte report, for example, found that one organization which implemented an internal career program saw a 30% increase in employee engagement. However, just 17% of workers are actively looking for internal opportunities.


Internal mobility can be the antidote to worker disengagement. Organizations that want to truly empower internal career mobility need to create a variety of pathways for employees. The familiar vertical route will always be a staple – it gives employees a clear opportunity to develop seniority and expertise in their given area. But there are other directions for employees to move; they should be given the chance to move horizontally into other business areas, or diagonally into more senior positions in related departments.


Physical mobility is just one side of the coin. Organizations can provide opportunities for talent to develop new skills and specialisms – while allowing them to remain in their current role – by giving them the chance to contribute to different projects or types of work or encouraging them to work alongside a different team in their own department. Staying in a familiar role can give employees the confidence to pursue new opportunities while bolstering the effectiveness of their team with fresh skills and insights.


Be prepared for redeployment


This kind of receptiveness to the free internal movement of employees also allows companies to properly execute redeployment. Sometimes the winds change, and restructuring becomes vital for the good of the business, but it’s a deeply worrying time for employees whose jobs might be at risk. The effective redeployment of employees into roles that are familiar and (ideally) pay just as well as their old ones can go a long way towards smoothing out this turbulent process and can even propel careers to new heights as skill gaps are filled and new areas are explored.


But good redeployment does more than just make things easier in the short term: it also wins hearts and minds for the future. The company that pulls off an effective redeployment will generate considerable returns when it comes to loyalty – talent is more likely to work longer and harder for an employer who fought to keep them. It's all about give and take. Employers need to show that they’ve got their workers’ backs through the hard times and the good times, and good redeployment can secure a happier, more productive workforce and make the most of difficult circumstances.


Prioritize upskilling and reskilling: for everyone


Skills are the currency of the future of work for both employees and organizations. They will be the driving force behind future careers, but a looming skills gap is on the horizon. 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted between now and 2027 as technology moves faster than organizational training programs.


That’s cause for a serious rethink about how we manage careers. Instead of giving workers a straight path up a hierarchical system to eventual positions at the top of the management ladder, we need to give them opportunities throughout their career paths to acquire the skills they want and need to remain employable in the future.


But leaders and managers also need to gain the skills to have these conversations with their workers. They need to know how to make career conversations valuable for talent, how to identify the next steps for their workers, and how to encourage them to pursue those upskilling and reskilling pathways. It’s about more than just giving guidance; leaders need to make themselves available to help their people by opening doors, networking them into new areas and championing skill acquisition throughout their organizations.


New perspectives on career development


There are different ways to look at career progression beyond the linear pathway. Career development isn’t just the physical movement from one job or organization to the next. Progressing in your career can be as dramatic as breaking into a new specialism and learning a whole new industry; or it can be as simple as acquiring a new skill that makes your current role more productive or enjoyable. There are multiple ways to develop a career, but there’s no one right way.