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April 30, 2021


5 min read

A guide to employee career pathing: Everything HR leaders need to know

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It’s all too easy for organizations to lose great talent if there are too few opportunities for advancement made available to them. This is a pain point that can cost businesses more than the amount of the lost employee’s salary, both in hard expenses like recruiting, and soft expenses like diminished productivity.

Talent development and growth opportunities are two of the most common employee requests, and implementing strategies for each can be a great way to ensure your top talent sticks around. Employee career pathing allows dedicated workers to understand how they fit into your organization long term, improving engagement, retention and ultimately, helps to accelerate business growth.

Let’s dive into the benefits of employee career pathing and actionable tips for how to develop employee career paths as part of your greater learning and development (L&D) efforts.


What is career pathing?

An employee career path (also known as career mapping) is a plan which illustrates how talent can move from their current position within the company to their ultimate goal, equipping them with the tools and information they need to get there. Employees can collaborate with leadership to identify the best path to take based on their skills, interests and experiences, as well as the viable opportunities within the company.


Career ladder vs career path

Think of career pathing like a map of talent development, complete with pit stops, side attractions and various routes. This includes the skills needed, competencies required, knowledge and experience that an individual will need to further their career on a specific track.

A career ladder is a little bit more specific and represents the various roles an employee might hold between their current position and goal position. For example, the “rungs” on a ladder for an employee who wants to be Chief Marketing Officer might be marketing coordinator, product marketing manager, director of marketing, VP of brand development and finally, CMO.


Who is responsible for career pathing?

Typically, career development and pathing is a combination of efforts from human resources (HR), L&D teams, people managers and direct reports. HR and L&D teams create the resources needed to map and advance along career paths, managers are responsible for setting goals and overseeing the progression of the employee and individuals must be responsible for their own growth with the resources provided to them.


Benefits of career pathing

Benefits of employee career pathing

Effective employee career pathing provides both tangible and intangible advantages to an organization and its team members. These include:

  • Employee engagement: Today’s workforce wants to be enriched both personally and professionally by their job. Career pathing allows employees to learn more about their own competencies and clearly see their value within the organization, leading to better overall engagement.



  • Succession planning: Career pathing for employees can help an organization prepare for the future by having the right team member already lined up to fill an open role. This allows you to close skill gaps, identify potential leaders early on and leverage strategic skills development to support career mobility.


  • Business health: Initiatives that support employee growth and wellness ultimately work to uplift and accelerate the company as a whole. Engaged, long-term employees who love their jobs have a number of positive effects on the health of an organization — from lower absenteeism to increased productivity.


How to create a career path model

How to develop employee career paths

Here are a few effective strategies you can use to develop a career pathing program that’s suited to fit the unique needs of your business.


Outline the structure of your organization

Before anything else, it’s critical to have a solid understanding of how hierarchy, advancement and development work at your company. For employee career pathing to be effective, the individual paths of team members need to align with the greater organizational structure of your business.


Identify role requirements for individual career paths

The exact requirements of each position should be very clearly defined so that both management and the employee understand the specific skills and responsibilities associated with different roles within the organization. This includes requirements such as hard and soft skills, previous experience, education background, and day-to-day tasks.


Create a unique career path for each role

When it comes to talent development, no two paths are the same. The road from Junior Developer to Chief Technology Officer is very different from that of a Human Resources Assistant and CHRO. Plus, the people in those positions likely come with varying skills and levels of experience. That’s why it’s important to carefully develop a path that’s unique to the individual and the job requirements at different levels of the ladder.


Implement a comprehensive learning and development program

Developing career paths is only one piece of a larger L&D strategy. Your organization needs to have the learning programs in place to actually enable its employees to succeed on their unique paths. L&D career pathing is most effective when used in tandem with other solutions, such as a workforce education program. Identify whether your organization has the capabilities to provide your employees with what they need to progress from role A to role B. This could include skills, certifications or even a degree. If there isn’t a system in place, it’s likely time to invest in one.


Career pathing starts during onboarding

Employees should know where they’re headed the moment they set foot inside your organization. As standard practice, set goals with your employees during onboarding procedures and have regular check-ins to assess career growth progress or make a change of plans.


Measuring impact from career paths

How to measure the impact of employee career paths

There are two primary talent development metrics for measuring the success of your employee career pathing initiatives.

  • Career mobility: Simply put, this is a long-term measure of whether your employees are moving up or not. What percentage of team members are reaching their goals? Are they receiving promotions? Do they feel they are receiving adequate training? Do they have the skills required to perform in their future role?


  • Return on investment (ROI): How you measure the ROI of your career pathing efforts will largely depend on other key talent development metrics that are specific to your business.


For example, if you experienced high turnover rates before initiating career pathing, you might measure the cost of turnover before and after implementation of the program. This can also be done by comparing related metrics such as employee satisfaction.


The importance of career pathing

When coupled with a greater learning and development strategy, dedicated career pathing is an effective way to provide your employees with the tools they need to develop their skills and grow with your company. It can also be a powerful recruitment tactic — many job seekers specifically look for the opportunity for career growth in a potential employer.

Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of career pathing, discover how workforce education can further enable the advancement of your employees and business.