September 20, 2018

Who’s in Charge of Career Advancement?

Getting a foot in the door of a business as a young adult, especially for someone who doesn’t have any college experience or a strong social support system, is hard enough. Finding a way to turn that entry-level job into a better job within the company is even harder.

Part of the problem, according to a recent report, is that there’s a disconnect between employers and employees as to whom should be pushing workers forward in their careers. The finding reflects a missed opportunity for companies and workers nationwide particularly at a time when businesses say they are struggling to fill so many jobs, 6.7 million by last count.

“Employers don’t necessarily all work under a career pathway mindset,” said Raija Vaisanen, research director for Commonwealth Corp., a quasi-public workforce development agency in Massachusetts. More than 70 percent of businesses surveyed in the state said they don’t have a formal advancement or promotion policy.

“There was no organized structure around having someone move up from entry level into the next phase of their career, whether it was within that same organization, or maybe go to school, or maybe moving to a different company,” said Naome Jeanty, co-author of the report. Employers said they wanted to en-courage mentoring relationships between staff, managers and young adult workers, but said they expected workers to seek these out on their own. 

Most young workers said they didn’t know how to approach that issue. Some felt that if they had a decent relationship with their manager, then they could at least talk about advancement with their boss. “But there was no time set aside to have that kind of conversation,” Jeanty said.  

So, if they are not getting information on career advancement and training from their employers, where are they getting it? A lot of them turn to Google, job boards and their families for information. And some get it from the certain career-readiness programs that helped them prepare for the entry-level jobs in the first place.  

There’s a disconnect between employers and employees as to whom should be pushing workers forward in their careers.

Commonwealth Corp. has put together some advice on how businesses themselves can help good employees take the leap from an entry-level job to the next level.

Managers must be explicit about expectations and opportunities. The report recommends that employers offer workers information and guidance on steps to take, skills to acquire, and how skills are transferrable in a next-level job. 

Create time and space for conversations between managers and employees. Foster an open and welcoming culture with opportunities for employees to approach managers. Create individual development plans for each employee. 

Invest in a system that provides entry-level workers with the skills needed to advance. Be clear about formal and informal training and technical requirements needed to advance in certain positions.

Train managers to capitalize on talent. Teach managers to recognize, encourage and capitalize on talent even if the employee has not approached them.

For organizations that help young people develop the social skills to get entry-level jobs, these are the takeaways from the report that can help prepare them for job advancement. 

Train young people to take charge of their career opportunities. Discuss how to approach managers about advancement. Encourage them to identify and capitalize on opportunities. 

Teach youth to effectively communicate transferable skills. Help youth recognize skills learned previously and make the connections between these skills and those required for jobs they are interested in.

Change the narrative around taking risks. Portray mistakes as opportunities for growth and help them navigate those instances with their employer.


Ramona Schindelheim is the senior business correspondent and executive producer for WorkingNation, reporting on jobs, the future of work and solutions to solving the skills gap.