Human Resources

Designing a Career Development and Management System for Head Start

Successful career development systems have common elements. Senior program staff searching for ways to promote the professional development of the staff members can analyze which of these suggestions, such as career ladders and lattices, are appropriate for their program.

Designing a Career Development and Management System for Head Start
by Marcia A. Manter

Career Ladders and Lattices
Policies and Procedures
Communication and Promotion Plan
Community Partners

Head Start has enjoyed a long and active role in career planning for parents and staff. These efforts have produced outstanding outcomes, such as parents who have become teacher/mentors, Head Start directors, and community leaders; employees who have become Head Start fellows in Washington, D.C., staff specialists in the Administration for Children and Families, and college faculty; and Head Start directors who have become leaders at the Head Start Bureau and in state government agencies.

With the current emphasis on professional development, more attention is being paid to formal career development systems for Head Start. This paper discusses some of the essential elements of career development systems that have been successful in businesses and large nonprofit organizations and gives suggestions for child development settings.

Career Ladders and Lattices

A career ladder or lattice can be a useful tool for employees to see the possible career options available to them within Head Start. The first step is to develop and graphically portray all of the positions employees might seek in career advancement. This portrayal should include clear, brief descriptions of the roles, major job functions, and realistic qualifications. The information can be taken from existing job descriptions and it should be condensed to fit on 3 x 5 index cards.

Employees find it helpful when positions are shown in ladders up and down the organizational lines. For example, the ladder can depict career moves a Head Start employee can make from a teacher assistant's job to classroom teacher to lead teacher in a center to teacher/mentor. These levels and career moves are most often based on the experience and knowledge needed to be successful. Employees also gain an understanding of the career opportunities open to them in a lateral direction, across specialty lines. For example, an employee can see what skills and knowledge are needed to move from a beginning job as a nutrition aide to a job as a teacher aide in a classroom to a job as a family advocate.

Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures help all aspects of an organization work smoothly and fairly, and career management is no different. Here are some items to cover when developing career management policies:

  • What career management services are available?
  • Who is eligible to participate in the career management program?
  • Must employees be in their jobs a specific amount of time before being eligible?
  • What costs must the employee assume?
  • May employees use work time for career exploration?
  • Who may apply for positions available within the organization?
  • What compensation is connected to job changes, advancement, and career moves?
  • When and how will a supervisor learn about an employee's internal job search?

Once policy statements have been developed, career management procedures flow from them. Here are examples of procedures to cover:

  • Where can an employee find career information within the organization?
  • Who (staff title or department) oversees the career management system?
  • What is the process for an employee to express interest in an internal career move?
  • How is confidentiality handled?
  • What forms, if any, need to be completed?

Communication and Promotion Plan

Formal career development plans within organizations may be a new concept to some employees. A communication and promotion plan should be designed to inform several audiences about the career management program, including:

  • Parents and the Policy Council, who will want to know how parents and community members can take advantage of the career management program
  • Managers and supervisors, who already are active participants as informal career counselors for staff and parents and may be interested in career changes themselves
  • Front-line staff, who will have the most interest in and opportunity to use the career management programs

Employees are usually excited about a formal and open program to advance their careers. At the same time, it is good to remember the hesitant feelings some employees will have; they may be unsure about confidentiality or reactions of supervisors who want to retain quality staff for their centers. An effective communication and promotion plan will meet these challenges by:

  • Explaining the program clearly
  • Creating enthusiasm in people for whom it was designed
  • Reducing the anxiety of supervisors and staff

Community Partners

Most Head Start programs have organizations in their communities that offer some type of career guidance (schools, colleges, private organizations, or nonprofit job development agencies). In fact, many programs already work with these groups to provide services to parents and employees. It makes sense first to search out these organizations to determine what services they offer.