Nonlinear Career Pathing: How Your Organization Can Support All Talent

June 26 2024 Posted by Zing Professional in Blog

When we look at the workplace, from the technology we use to the types of jobs we have, we see that the pace of change continues to rapidly increase. Not only that, our career paths have been revolutionized. This is partially due to personal choice and partially dictated by macroeconomic influences that have made careers longer, individual tenures at companies shorter, and the job market more volatile in general.

Previous generations often started and ended their careers at one company. A regular promotion pattern kept workers within a vertical structure that valued loyalty and consistency and rewarded workers with a predictable retirement supported by a pension or other investment vehicle. Now, the American workforce and employers’ expectations have shifted dramatically. Workers are working for more of their lives. In 2022, 19% of Americans 65 years and older worked in 2023. That is nearly twice as many workers compared to 35 years ago. But workers are also opting out of the system for longer periods. A 2022 survey found that 62% of workers had already taken a career break, while 35% said they would consider taking one in the future.

Career paths are no longer linear, vertical progressions, but instead include breaks, horizontal moves, or multiple industry switches. With the US facing a shortage of labor across many industries, companies can position themselves to attract great talent who have a lot of value to offer through atypical career paths.

How to Build Atypical Career Paths

Structured career paths are a valuable tool for effective talent management. Your organization likely already supports vertical career paths, which means an employee moves up within their department or line of business through regular promotions. This structure helps employees know what they need to do to succeed and keep your organization operating smoothly.

In addition to supporting vertical progression, your talent management team can build alternative paths for employees who have other priorities or goals. Supporting nontraditional career paths does not mean you abandon traditional career pathing. It can be an add-on, rather than a replacement. Some alternate career paths you can build into your organization are horizontal, dual, and scaled back.

A horizontal career path option allows employees to move to a different department or line of business, while retaining their same position level. A dual career path ladder is for employees who still want to grow and move up, but do not want to manage others. Instead, they want to focus on their own work and advancement. Lastly, a scaled back path is for employees who prefer to stay where they are or move down the ladder. These employees may prioritize their work/life balance over promotions and salary increases. These alternative paths are just some examples, there will surely be employees with other career preferences, but by building a few atypical paths, your organization will be better equipped to support all variations.

How to Support Folks with Nonlinear Career Paths

Even with these structures in place, your HR team can do more to support and retain employees with alternative career paths. Employees unfulfilled in their vertical career path may not know that they could be more successful and engaged by opting for a nonlinear career.

Your HR team can identify these team members, and work with them to build a more fulfilling career. These individuals can be identified in several ways. First, training, and rotational programs can expose employees to horizontal opportunities that might be a great fit for them. Secondly, incentives for additional education and skill assessments can help pinpoint employees who are better suited in another department or could spot a high-performing worker not interested in management. These tools allow HR to begin conversations with workers whom your organization wants to retain, but who may not thrive in a vertical career path.

Additionally, your HR team can implement new structures to support workers. Midcareer leave programs and returnships support workers who want to take a break yet still return to work. Consulting positions or part-time roles can also help bring on talent who prefer nonlinear paths or provide a new opportunity to an existing employee not satisfied with their current role. Your team can also collaborate closely with interviewers to teach them how nontraditional employees can add value to your organization so that they do not instantly discount a prospective employee with an unusual resume.

How Nonlinear Employees Add Value to Your Organization

There can be bias towards workers who choose not to participate in a vertical career path. Our organizations have been built to support and reward vertical career progression; however, nontraditional employees can add unique skills and points of view. For example, horizontal employees can bring valuable best practices and learnings from other industries or departments. They also are more receptive to change and are more adaptable. A dual career ladder employee can build a deep well of knowledge to share with others who have competing management responsibilities.

Workers with nonlinear backgrounds may have an easier time adjusting to a new role. This means that your organization can more easily redeploy talent to fill an emerging skill gap or deal with a critical labor shortage. 

Building a Resilient Workforce for Tomorrow’s Challenges

Nonlinear career paths are a preferred future for many employees, and they can be a valuable tool in an employer’s toolbox to attract and retain extraordinary talent. HR teams who begin to invest in alternative career pathing, and support employees through structures, tactics, and cultural changes will build resilient and competitive workforces.

If you are looking to change your talent structure, reach out to our team at Zing Recruiting. We can help diversify your workforce with nontraditional employees who can add valuable skills to your organization.