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 pursues occupational opportunities.

Workplaces that invest in career learning and development find that it can be a vital personnel retention strategy and an attractive incentive to prospective employees. Workplaces with career development systems in place are better positioned to help Head Start parents begin or pursue their employment journey.

Successful career development systems have common elements:

  • Clearly defined career pathways, including ladders and lattices of potential paths to advancement
  • Policies and procedures
  • Communication and promotion plans
  • Community partners

Offer 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 among the top drivers of workplace satisfaction. When employees are presented with 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 the organization rather than outside of it. Career pathways can also help parents in the Head Start program enter or advance in the workforce.

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

  • Aligns with the skill demands for the early childhood education sector in the local and state economy
  • Helps an individual enter or advance within the early childhood education field
  • Provides coaching and other supports to prepare the individual to be successful as they pursue career-related educational options
  • Enables individuals to move at their own pace in their career development

A career ladder or lattice can be a useful tool for Head Start employees and family members to connect with career pathways available within the early childhood education field.

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 teacher assistant 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 that accounts for possible lateral or diagonal moves, which 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 together toward the career development of all staff and interested family members. 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 time and money?
  • Who may apply for positions available within the organization?
  • What compensation is connected to job changes, advancement, or career moves?
  • 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 and families
  • How the organization promotes internal or external job opportunities
  • Which staff or department (e.g., human resources) oversees the career development system
  • How internal career moves are handled
  • How to ensure confidentiality as people seek new opportunities
  • What forms are needed (e.g., application for jobs inside the Head Start program, education expense reimbursement form)
  • Method for monitoring record career development progress (e.g., through the use of the Individualized Professional Development (iPD) portfolio).

Create a Communication and Promotion Plan

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

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

Employees are usually excited about having a program in place to advance their careers. At the same time, it is good to remember the hesitant feelings some employees will have. For example, 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:

  • Clearly explaining career pathways and career development opportunities
  • Creating enthusiasm about career pathways
  • Clearly explain confidentiality
  • Reducing anxiety about reaching out for career development or how individual staff career advancement may affect the organization

Work with Community Partners

Most Head Start programs work with community organizations that offer related career-related services, such as career counseling or certification programs. 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.