At a divergence of paths, take the one that leads to learning.
by Lynn Schroeder
October 3, 2016
As today’s aging baby boomers rapidly retire, recruiting and retaining employees will be increasingly important to the future of the U.S. labor market. Based on an analysis of 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the Society for Human Resource Management reports there could be a shortfall of 20 million workers over the next 20 years. As a result, organizations must create innovative and transparent new practices that help employees visualize their career path within the organization to promote engagement and retention.
Steven King, vice president of human resources, talent and leadership effectiveness at Allstate, said the company has addressed this issue by changing its career development model from a “tapped on the shoulder” promotion system, where an employee waits to be promoted by the supervisor, to “career self-management.” Employees can access a site listing every single position within the company at the vice president level and below, and anyone within the company can apply.
Allstate also provides a host of resources to help employees navigate their career paths. For example, the company created an Own Your Career portal with a variety of career development resources to help them think about their interests, skills, talents and goals. The site also includes advice on how to create a network, do interviews and prepare for the future.
“It really mirrors the external marketplace,” King said. “Here employees can find thousands of jobs to apply and compete for, which has led to big increases in internal promotions and cross functional movement of talent. It’s really opened up the candidate pool across the company.”
Comcast also understands the importance of giving workers a role in defining their paths forward; the company revised its individual development approach into a less formal one where employees have a more active role. According to Martha Soehren, senior vice president, chief talent development officer for Comcast, the company created a new Individual Development Program toolkit with three main areas of focus:
- What problems do you want to solve?
- What experiences do you want to build?
- What is your end game?
Employees work with their supervisors to evaluate what they are doing now, what they want to do in two or three years, and how they can work together to get the employee the education and experience necessary to meet those goals.
King said Allstate invests heavily in workforce development initiatives that help cultivate and engage its workforce. For instance, the company’s online Talent Connection Learning resource for employees where they can access all the learning and development opportunities offered by the company. According to King, in 2015 the company recorded more than 471,000 course completions, including 96,000 instructor-led, 271,000 online learning sessions, and 26,000 virtual classrooms for blended learning, and he adds that there are 77,000 other learning and development resources and tools available.
King also said the company’s generous tuition reimbursement program is an important recruiting tool. As part of the benefit program, the company has partnered with the Chicago-area Lake Forest Graduate School of Management to offer classes toward an MBA right at the company’s home office. Employees working in other offices can participate virtually.
“The program helps us attract great talent because we know these candidates are interested in joining a company where continuing education is important,” King said. “At the same time, it helps people perform more effectively in their current jobs. It’s also a way to help people develop their careers and prepare for future roles, making sure they can achieve both current and future goals, which also delivers back to us a high rate of talent retention.”
Comcast is also focused on helping to cultivate its workforce with a variety of programs. Comcast University offers educational content across levels and functions within the company, along with a generous tuition assistance program that includes doctoral degrees. Soehren said the company truly wants its workers to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement program. “When I give career presentations, I ask people to raise their hand if they’ve been with the company for at least 10 years, and then ask them to keep their hand up if they have used tuition assistance. I tell them, ‘For those of you who lowered your hand, you’ve left approximately $70,000 on the table that you could have used to advance your education and therefore your career.’ ”
The company also works closely with leadership on an annual review where every leader assesses his or her talents to pinpoint areas that could be strengthened. For example, the review might indicate a headquarters-based leader who, with a few years’ experience working in the field, could move into a higher position. “Using the talent reviews we are able to identify our talent strengths as well as gaps, and work diligently to close the gaps with intentional development opportunities for groups and individuals,” Soehren said. “We spend a great deal of time building our bench with great leaders to move Comcast forward. We work with individuals to identify action items and plans that can ultimately help them prepare for movement within the company.”
Focusing on a company’s growth strategy and employee development can be difficult, but career and development advising can help. Advisers help ensure that employees understand the development options available and the company’s business needs before they make learning choices.
Ensuring access to a steady stream of employees has never been more critical. Employers who offer development opportunities and a clear path forward create a powerful and engaged workforce. In return, employees are armed with the tools they need, making it a win-win for employee and company.
Lynn Schroeder is vice president, client relations for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.