Climbing the Skills Map, Not the Corporate Ladder

October 07, 2022
Checkr Editor

Understand the trend of climbing the skills map over the corporate ladder and how employers can act as career enablers.

The Great Reassessment changed the conversation about the future of work, introducing new workplace patterns and philosophies. But even before 41 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, many were challenging the traditional five-year or ten-year plans to climb the corporate ladder. The pivot in how employees think about their future has been evolving, breaking away from previously established paradigms.

One of those changes is the influx of lateral moves, career-switching, and skills-map climbing. Employees no longer want to stick around in one role at one organization and climb to the top.

Instead, studies have shown that many employees are interested in acquiring various skills across various industries—diversifying their careers and skill sets. Ultimately, this skills-climbing trend can benefit long-term career trajectories and organizational efficiency—preparing future leaders to face the rapid pace of change with a wide-reaching knowledge base.

Here’s what you need to know about climbing the skills map and how employers can support employees in the new world of work.

Work is changing

Employees are no longer chained or incentivized by pension plans or other long-term corporate perks. Individuals are increasingly rejecting traditional corporate pathways and instead searching for work that fulfills them, trying on new industries and roles, and going for balance and quality of life over what they see as the day-to-day slog of working the same job day in and day out.

In fact, the median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.1 years in January 2020, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study.

Median employee tenure was generally higher among older workers than younger ones. For example, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 was 9.9 years, more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years at 2.8 years.

These differences illustrate a new type of thinking: an individual does not have to be chained to a job, role, or even industry. Younger generations are all about getting the most out of their employment, from learning new skills to gaining experience in various fields, roles, and levels.

What is climbing the skills map?

As a society, we are used to the idea of climbing the “corporate ladder”; starting in an entry-level associate position and rising the ranks to a manager or above.

Today, however, career trajectories look more like a map, or what’s commonly referred to as the career lattice, a canvas of infinite possibilities where lawyers move to the role of teachers or marketing professionals move to human resources.

Navigating the skills map or career lattice reflects the need for today’s workers to be agile and maintain a wide variety of skills for success, including technical skills and soft skills, from programming to project management and data analytics to data journalism.

Michael Waldman, professor of strategy and business economics at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management commented, “The benefit of lateral moves therefore lies in the idea that upper level jobs use a wide but not necessarily deep set of skills, so a lateral move today will make the worker more productive in the future if the worker is promoted.

The corporate ladder structure where skill sets are siloed and upward movement feels slow is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Instead, the future of work will call for a return of the "jack of all trades": a person with many talents, interests, and areas of knowledge. Skills in digital tools and technology, the ability to use data analytics, business management, and creative design will be paramount to employee and employer success.

The skills map represents how successful corporations can function today, promoting flexibility and collaboration to conquer challenges and achieve goals.

Working with the realization that in today’s market, employees seek to be well-rounded professionals with skills in technology, writing, research, development, marketing, etc.

The benefits of climbing the skills map

Since many of us are used to being subject matter experts and staying in our lane regarding corporate structure, climbing the skills map may not seem like the vision of the future.

However, a well-rounded professional is an untapped resource with immense capabilities. Their vast knowledge offers a unique perspective to companies; these employees can see the forest and the trees. They can see the process from start to finish and identify gaps that previously had gone unnoticed in our siloed roles and skill sets.

Employees with diverse capabilities offer a broader range of knowledge which bolsters innovation and raises productivity.

A 2007 CEDEFOP study found that a one percent increase in training days leads to a three percent increase in productivity, and that the share of overall productivity growth attributable to training is around 16 percent.

Moreover, an employee’s ability to make lateral moves can also increase their job satisfaction. Younger generations bring a different outlook to the job market, and it's important to recognize their role in the future of businesses.

Many GenZs crave diverse opportunities and flexible options. Their definition of success is very different from that of older generations. GenZs have shown loyalty to companies that can offer varied entrepreneurial opportunities with stable employment safety.

Ultimately, the trend toward climbing the skills map will complement trends in the future of work. Employees with a wide-range of skills will be able to solve the challenges of the future with more agility, insight, and wisdom. To retain current employees and attract the next generation of employees, companies must prioritize learning and development.

What employers can do to support skills map climbers

Employees today are looking for new ways to gain skills and build an individualized career trajectory. That means human resource (HR) teams need to break down silos and work holistically to support employee learning and enhance education and development programs to increase retention and prepare their employees for the challenges of the future.

According to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2022, 72% of learning and development (L&D) leaders agreed that L&D has become a more strategic function in their organization.

As an employer, what can you do to foster L&D at your organization? The main action employers can take to increase retention is to support employees in reskilling and upskilling. This can be done in several ways Here are three steps to take to foster a culture of skills map climbing to ultimately improve your workforce’s agility and likelihood to stick around.

1. Promote open roles internally

Employers should work with HR to post open roles within the company either before or at the same time as they are posted to a public audience.

With skills map climbing, many internal employees may be eyeing other departments to expand their arsenal of skills. When a new job arises, always post the job across the entire organization to allow for internal applications.

A majority of L&D professionals agree that it’s less expensive to reskill a current employee than to hire a new one. Furthermore, companies that excel at internal mobility can retain employees nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with it, according to a recent LinkedIn report.

2. Perform

Open communication is vital in retaining employees when it comes to skill mapping. Make sure to have ongoing conversations about career trajectory with employees. It is essential for managers to consistently check in with employees about their career goals and aspirations.

If an employee mentions wanting to grow in a specific area, managers need to offer support by encouraging the employee to join a project outside their scope.

Managers should also talk with employees about cross-training and what positions might interest them. Employers can also research and sponsor ongoing education by communicating to employees about possible opportunities they might be interested in.

3. Sponsor ongoing education

Many companies offer L&D stipends to empower employees to grow their skill sets. Consider your current benefit structure and find ways to support cross-training and upskilling opportunities. You could implement an L&D budget offered to employees or onboard an L&D platform like LinkedIn Learning or Learn In.

Climbing the skills map > climbing the corporate ladder

Workers are increasingly demanding personalization and autonomy over their career paths. Individuals are seeking ways to diversify and collect a variety of different skill sets rather than putting all their focus on becoming a subject matter expert and developing a specific skill.

Overall, employers need to think and act like career enablers. That may mean tailoring jobs to the worker, not the other way around. Instead of looking at lateral moves and skill set development as a hindrance, employers need to see the positive—reskilling and upskilling employees ensures they will be prepared to face the workplace challenges of the future.

These moves aid the company in becoming more efficient and productive rather than furthering silos that prevent flexibility and innovation and reduce productivity.

Latticed career paths are becoming the norm. And there are benefits for employees and employers alike. Fostering skills map climbing makes employees more versatile while increasing organizational strategic flexibility.

In the end, working together as partners in skill development will result in growth and development for both employees and employers.

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