Human Resources

Designing a Career Development System

Career development is a continuous, lifelong process of learning and professional growth. The individual who pursues career development seeks out and obtains opportunities to further their job-related skills, explores role options, and pursue career trajectories.

Workplaces that invest in career development find that it can be a vital personnel retention strategy and an attractive incentive to prospective employees. When employees don’t see a path to career advancement, they are more likely to leave especially if they can find a new opportunity with an organization that does invest in employee learning and development.  

Successful career development systems have five common elements:

  1. Clearly defined career pathways
  2. Career ladders and lattices
  3. Policies and procedures
  4. Communication and promotion plans
  5. Community partners

Build Career Pathways

A career pathway is an organized approach to finding and pursuing vocational interests, determining education and training needs (e.g., degrees, certifications, continuing education units, specialized job training), and charting an action plan for reaching career goals.

Building career pathways can enhance employee engagement and retention, which helps fulfill the current and future needs of the organization. Learning opportunities, professional development, and career progression are key reasons that employees are attracted to or stay with an organization. When employees are presented with career development opportunities that align with their skills, interests, and career ambitions, they will be motivated to continue to deepen their expertise, participate in learning opportunities, and feel inspired to take the steps needed to grow with their organization rather than outside of it. Career pathways can also help parents in the Head Start program enter or advance in the workforce.

A career development system offered by workplaces in the early childhood education field ideally has these characteristics:

  1. Aligns with the skill demands for the early childhood education sector in the local and state economy
  2. Prepares an individual to be successful in secondary or postsecondary educational experiences
  3. Provides academic and career coaching to support an individual in achieving their educational and career goals
  4. Provides, as appropriate, concurrent and accelerated program designs
  5. Helps an individual enter or advance within a specific occupation or occupational cluster

Create Career Ladders and Lattices

A career ladder or lattice can be a useful tool for Head Start employees and parents to connect with career pathways available within the Head Start program.

A career ladder represents the positions along a career path up the organizational line. 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 across centers. The ladder should include clear, brief descriptions of each role, its major tasks, and the required qualifications including experience, educational achievement, and knowledge.

A career lattice is a more flexible path of progression and can open up more opportunities. For example, an employee can acquire the skills and knowledge needed to move from a beginning job as a nutrition aide or bus monitor to a job as a teacher aide in a classroom and later as a family advocate.

Develop Policies and Procedures

Policies and procedures help all members of an organization work smoothly toward the career development of all staff and interested parents. They also make career advancement opportunities transparent and fair.

Questions to cover when developing policy include:

  • What career opportunities are available?
  • Who is eligible for these opportunities?
  • Is there a specific amount of time employees must be in their jobs before being eligible?
  • What are the costs in terms of time and money?
  • Who may apply for positions available within the organization?
  • What compensation is connected to a job change, advancement, or career move?
  • When and how will a supervisor be involved in an employee's internal career opportunities?

Examples of procedures to address include:

  • How the organization provides career development information to employees
  • How the organization promotes internal or external job opportunities
  • Which staff or department oversees the career development system (e.g., human resources)
  • How internal career moves are handled
  • How to ensure confidentiality as people seek new opportunities
  • Needed forms (e.g., applications for jobs or career development opportunities, forms to record career development progress)

Create a Communication and Promotion Plan

Head Start program leadership must implement a systematic approach to training and professional development for staff (45 CFR §1302.92(b)). However, employees have a shared responsibility to invest in their own professional development by contributing to discussions and planning.

For some staff, career planning may be a new concept, which is why it is essential for Head Start programs to plan carefully how they will communicate about and promoting career development opportunities. Programs can create a plan that explains the career development process, who the process is designed for, when the process is initiated with an employee, and how will it be implemented.

The Head Start program should collaborate with each employee to create their professional development plan that is regularly evaluated (Head Start Act, Section 648A(f)). Career mapping is a strategy that can be used for this planning and that allows employees to think strategically about their career paths. Steps in career mapping include:

  1. Conduct a self-assessment. Engage with the employee to explore his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as past experiences, accomplishments, and interests.
  2. Create an individualized career plan. Identify positions within the organization that meet the employee's interests and they might consider pursuing.
  3. Explore other opportunities.  Encourage the employee to consider other job opportunities within and outside the organization that may not have been identified in their original career map but that might be a fit given their evolving interests and abilities.

Employees are usually excited about career advancement opportunities. At the same time, some employees may prefer to stay in the position at which they entered the organization. Programs can encourage these employees to consider continuous learning opportunities that enable them to sharpen the skills they use in their current position.

Work with Community Partners

Most Head Start programs work with community organizations that offer career guidance. These include schools, colleges, private organizations, and nonprofit job development agencies. If your Head Start program does not already work with outside groups to provide career development services to parents and employees, you are encouraged to explore the resources available in your community. Also look for opportunities for your center to collaborate with other groups to enhance the career development opportunities for your staff.