Forget higher salaries or fancy benefits—career growth opportunities are what employees really care about. For the first time in Jobvite’s annual Job Seeker Nation report, career opportunities topped the list of employee priorities with 61% of respondents saying career growth was their number one concern. While salary and benefits still rank highly, the shift towards career growth indicates the changing sentiments of employees. With average employee tenure at just 4.2 years and a record number of jobs unfilled, most people know they could always seek a higher salary, but finding an employer who will invest in their growth is a little more challenging. As Udemy’s Head of L&D Shelley Osborne writes, People of all ages are shifting away from the ‘come and collect a paycheck’ mentality and are looking for learning and growth opportunities when they evaluate roles and companies.”

With career growth on the radar for most employees, it’s not too surprising to see that employees are increasingly dissatisfied with their companies’ L&D offerings. Recent research published in HR Dive reveals that employees are frustrated with the learning options and tools offered by employers. Only 27% of the 1,000 employees surveyed found their employers’ L&D offerings to be “embedded in the organization, meaningful and useful.” 41% of respondents either rated their learning as something that “ticks the box” or something that’s talked about by execs but never acted upon. Surveyed employees also felt learning directly from others was one of the most valuable and effective ways to learn.

What can L&D professionals do to promote career growth and learning opportunities that employees crave? Here are four ideas to try at your organization.

4 tips for supporting employees’ career growth

1. Rethink your approach to learning—forget career ladders

The growing emphasis on career growth reflects a massive change in the workplace. It’s becoming increasingly rare for people to follow a linear path and much more common to focus on growth as people change industries and fields.

Udemy’s Head of L&D Shelley Osborne suggests that rather than talking about career ladders, “A better way of describing career development is as a skyscraper. On a skyscraper, you can navigate in a less structured, more organic way—you can go up or down, or you can move across to a whole different area on the same floor depending on your interests and goals.”

The fluidity of skills coming and going means we are moving toward arole-lessfuture of work. Career paths will be defined by constant reskilling and movement into new kinds of roles. Instead of job-hopping to new companies, employees will be constantly “role-hopping” within their company.

As an L&D professional, you can help managers rethink the way they support employee career growth. While in the past, manager/direct report conversations may have revolved around how to get to the next step in the career ladder, today they should focus more on the skills employees would like to develop or projects that allow them to explore other areas of the business they’re interested in. See Forget Career Ladders: 4 Steps to Career Development.

2. Add personalized learning at scale

Personalization is an increasingly common part of the consumer experience—we receive personalized recommendations for music, television, and books powered by machine learning. Employees now expect their learning experience to be personalized in a similar manner. Gartner contributor Sharon George writes, “Personalization will revolutionize L&D by providing customized learning experiences for every employee, based on the challenges they face in their role, their career aspirations, and their personal preferences.”

Technological advancements in machine learning mean that this type of personalization is scalable and easy to implement across a wide range of subject areas. For example, Udemy for Business’ Smart Recommendations product feature powers what individual learners should learn next using the data of 30 million learners on Udemy worldwide. By analyzing billions of learning interactions unique to Udemy and Udemy for Business, we can deliver smarter, personalized learning recommendations for each individual. By surfacing more powerful and intelligent content to learners, we can engage people more in learning and help employees navigate the ever-evolving skills landscape. This helps ensure that learning is embedded in employees’ work and that it’s meaningful and useful, several priorities highlighted by the research published in HR Dive. To learn more about personalization in learning, see Why Personalization is the Future of L&D.  

3. Provide opportunities for peer learning

Research has shown that the majority of learning that happens in the workplace is informal or social learning. PwC discovered that employees can accelerate everyone’s development if they’re given the tools to share. You can encourage this type of learning at your organization by creating spaces for employees to share their experiences and seek advice from each other. This also helps employees get personalized advice and tips from their coworkers, further promoting a one-size-fits-one approach to learning. See 4 Ways to Launch a Successful Social Learning Program.

Lissa Minkin, VP of People & Workplace at Tile, explains that organizing “people leader circles” is an effective way of promoting peer learning. During these sessions, managers meet to discuss a concept such as situational leadership. Combining people leader circles with learning modules helps cement the concepts they’re covering, and the circles give managers the opportunity to share their experiences and take advantage of peer learning. Lissa writes, “These conversations allow leaders to learn from each other and help reinforce the idea that learning is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event.”

4. Empower mentorship opportunities throughout the organization

Mentorship can be another powerful way of providing career growth opportunities to your employees. Research shows that mentorship is strongly connected to employee retention and advancement. The Sun Microsystems/Oracle study of its internal mentoring programs found that retention rates increased to 69% for mentors and 72% for mentees while the retention rate among non-participants was just 49%. The Human Resources department of Sun Microsystems/Oracle compared the career progress of over 1,000 employees over a 5-year period and found that employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors. According to a study by the Association of Talent Development, 75% of executives believe mentoring was key to their success.

MIT’s Sloan Review of Management suggests that one mentor is no longer sufficient and recommends the practice of having several mentors or apersonal board of advisers.” Each member of this board can fulfill different functions such as a personal guide, career guide, or full-service mentor.  

Executive mentor and leadership coach JeanAnn Nichols argues that mentorship is a skill that anyone can learn by developing the right mentorship mindset. Adopting simple practices like turning off outside distractions and focusing fully on the conversation with the mentee can help build trust and strengthen the mentor/mentee relationship. Learn more in 4 Tips on How to Be a Great Mentor.

5. Cultivate the qualities that help people succeed in digital transformation

As organizations undergo digital transformation, integrating and adopting technology to stay competitive, they also experience a cultural shift that involves rethinking existing operating models. True digital transformation starts with equipping your employees with business skills that can help them remain innovative and competitive in the face of automation.

MIT’s Sloan Management Review editor Paul Michelman outlines three personality traits crucial for success in today’s fast-paced digital environment: will, skill, and velocity. Will refers to the appetite to learn new things. Employees who cultivate a growth mindset will come out ahead. Skill refers to adapting one’s skill set as their environment transforms. And velocity is the speed at which people adopt new skills and make decisions. Michelman believes future success and career transformation may come in part from honing these areas.

Zooming in on the topic of skills, Udemy’s Humanizing Learning Report identifies four unique human traits that can give your workforce the ultimate competitive advantage in today’s digital age: envisioning a different future, storytelling, collaborating, and using tools to change physical and mental spaces and meet needs we didn’t know we had. Wondering what your employees should be focusing on right now? Explore Udemy’s Top 10 Tech and Soft Skills Trending in 2019.

As the world of work transforms, employees will continue to seek career growth opportunities to keep up with the pace of change. Following the steps we’ve outlined here will help you support your employees and allow them to prepare for whatever comes next.

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