Career Pathing: Build New Trails for Growth

Finding the right information at the right time in health care is more than a convenience. Quick access to a patient’s history, with all the attached scans, images, analysis and records could mean the difference between pain relieved or prolonged, between an accurate diagnosis or frustration-building trial and error, and in an emergency it could mean the difference between life and death.

Most health care information employees know how important their work is to patient outcomes. But in July 2012 the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) introduced an interactive career path to show those employees how their careers can grow in sync with a rapidly expanding industry.

The path was developed by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a nonprofit adult learning and workforce development organization. Interactive online tools can help enhance career and learning opportunities for individuals and create stronger talent pools for employers.

Click one job title on an interactive career map and lines radiate in several directions that represent lateral and upward moves. Got a specialty in compliance? Click on that job title and a web of opportunities unfolds that leads right up to the C-suite. “This encapsulates the whole future of our industry,” said Bill Rudman, executive director of the AHIMA Foundation and vice president of education visioning for AHIMA.

Diagramming the relationships between jobs and the skills required for each, the career map illustrates the spectrum of professional development open to health care information employees, and where they can go with the skills they have and those they can acquire.

“When you look at our job families, you’ve got finance all the way to education and risk management — those are different jobs, but the underlying skill sets are similar,” Rudman said. “The map shows how you can use the similarities to bridge from one to another. This allows individuals to understand how their core skills are transferable among the specific jobs.”

AHIMA’s goal is to equip the health care industry to attract, keep and grow the information management talent it must have to keep up with market and regulatory demands. AHIMA serves 52 affiliated component state associations and has more than 67,000 members. The organization’s interactive career map translates that big picture to a navigation tool that will keep individuals growing within an industry where skilled talent is in high demand.

The health care industry is not the only one under pressure. Those same pressures to find and keep talent are escalating for most employers as economic recovery takes hold. Career maps do more than identify immediate next steps to keep employees engaged and growing. These paths should be aligned with two emerging trends that are already framing workers’ decisions. Increasingly, employees are driving their own development, and they expect employers to match that commitment by offering an array of career options.

Meanwhile, millennials, armed with widespread knowledge about new opportunities blossoming around them, won’t be contained by traditional silos and ladders. Career paths offer a strategic advantage for employers to attract and keep the kind of motivated workers who propel growth.

Create a GPS for Rising Talent
Most employees want to invest in their professional development, according to an Accenture Skills Gap study released in November 2011 and updated in July 2012. It found 66 percent of employees had to learn new skills in the past five years to keep pace with evolving job responsibilities. Yet, most employers concentrate job training on technical skills, often neglecting to equip employees with strategic skills such as analysis, management and problem-solving.

Meanwhile, employers send mixed messages about career advancement. The Accenture study found while 76 percent of employees believe their employers value their ability to gain new skills, nearly as many also think it largely is up to them to figure out what skills they need to acquire.

Technology training is the most commonly available skill for employees, with 52 percent of surveyed employees gaining new technology skills in the past five years via workplace training. Meanwhile, training in other skills that employers claim are scarce and highly valued is rarely offered to employees. Only a third to a quarter of employees reported they had gained problem-solving, communication, technical, leadership and functional knowledge skills through their workplaces.

The incoming generation isn’t waiting for career direction to be handed down from higher-ups. For instance, “Shaping a New Future,” an October 2010 study of life aspirations of millennial women in the U.S. sponsored by clothing company Levi’s, found 83 percent believe they won’t follow in anyone’s footsteps, but will define life and career success on their own terms. Young women value the ability to define their own success just as much as they do getting promoted at work.

Younger workers are turning to anyone who will give them guidance — not just the traditional higher-level mentors and sponsors, but anyone willing to treat mentoring as a peer relationship, sharing insight equally. Social networking sites enable them to detect new jobs as they are being created, and to be among the first to get in on them.

Employees also are investing in transferable skills, and they aren’t afraid to transfer them elsewhere. Career pathing tools help employers make the case for transferring those skills within an organization, building the return on learning investment and banking talent for imminent growth.

Engineer Career Lattices
Rick Pollak, chief talent officer at STV Group Inc., is using career lattices as the pathing model to retain and develop scarce engineering and technical talent. Pollack said executives at the New York construction and engineering firm realized “there weren’t enough ladder rungs to satisfy our talented pool of employee-owners.”

Job descriptions had become so tangled it was difficult for managers and employees to figure out what skills could be transferred, how and where. “We had to help employees see beyond their own groups, and across the organization and even the industry,” he said. “We needed to find a way for them to move laterally rather than to move out.”

In January 2012, every STV employee arrived at work to find a new job description, title and place on the new company lattice. Managers were equipped with communication training to navigate discussions about the new model and how employees would be expected to pursue developmental opportunities in all directions — over and up. A year in the making, now STV is seeing the return on its re-engineered career paths.

“For the first time, when managers are having career direction conversations, they can say, ‘look, you’re a project manager, and there’s a project manager track in each of our channels. If you don’t see an opportunity in building facilities, you could transfer to architecture. Your skill set travels, and we have opportunities for you,’” Pollak said.

During the past five years, as AT&T has ramped up career pathing with an emphasis on strategic lateral moves, talent managers identified an important new skill: the ability to quickly adapt and apply transferable skills. An employee who has successfully navigated several lateral moves as well as promotions is able to swiftly size up a new position and swing into action, said Jon Nelson, director of human resources for AT&T.

Nelson said an employee who has cycled from engineering to human resources to labor relations and has been successful at each level could rise to the top of the potential leadership candidate pool because he or she is a readily available internal candidate who already has been groomed for success.

“That’s a value you may not see in someone who has moved straight up a siloed organization, taking on the same problems at a different level,” he said. “In today’s highly competitive environment, there’s value in your ability to handle unique situations and apply unique solutions.”

Industries such as telecommunications that have traditionally defined career
potential in terms of technical credentials are finding that lattices invite employees to master business and problem-solving skills in bite-sized assignments, said Joanne Cleaver, author of The Career Lattice. She said that relational and collaborative skills are becoming the pre-eminent success factors even in Silicon Valley. “Technical employees can resist leadership because the culture and language is uncomfortable,” she said. “Career paths and lattices neutralize those worries by breaking down advancement into lower-risk moves with immediate value.”

Step Into Tomorrow’s Opportunities
AT&T’s career paths are streamlining the process of mining internal talent — a cost- and time-efficient mode of filling critical openings. “We are working very hard at making certain that all the unique talents of the employees who comprise AT&T are being used where they best fit,” Nelson said. “The byproduct is greater retention.”

Employers trust employees to use their skills to accomplish business goals, while employees trust employers to support career paths as an X-ray of that relationship: transparent opportunities, outlined in paths and lattices, support mutual investment in growth.

Technological change and shifting market conditions will realign career paths. Talent leaders should integrate employee self-direction with talent development. Employees want to see where they are going — today and tomorrow — so they can be sure they are headed in the right direction.

Pamela Tate is president and CEO for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. She can be reached at