Who Owns Career Development?

Shawnee Love   •  
July 19, 2014

It seems universally understood that employees want career development (i.e., prolonged and intentional training and development activities to enable employees to prepare to take on future positions in a company).  However, I am seeing it happen less and less within small and medium companies.

I suspect at least part of the change is tied to workforce dynamics.  It used to be that employees stayed with a company their entire career, and thus it was a good investment for employers to develop employees- they got better skilled employees who they could promote.  Employees in return came to expect to be invested in and subsequently to progress up the career ladder.  What started as a smart business decision over time led to the ingrained belief that it is a company’s responsibility to develop its employees.

However, jump ahead to today’s world where 24 months might be average tenure (recent numbers reported by a US survey).  Unsurprisingly, employers (particularly smaller ones) just aren’t willing (or in many cases able) to invest in the career development of employees who are likely to walk out the door. Increasingly they are questioning the ROI of making a long term investment in another company’s (perhaps even a competitor’s) future employee.

The purpose of this blog is not to bemoan our difficult times or berate employees for wanting to progress, but rather to realign expectations of employers and employees when it comes to career development.

I believe that employees must become the owners of their own careers.  That doesn’t absolve managers from:

  • Talking with their team members about where they are going and what they are doing to get there, as well as
  • Providing opportunities for new challenges aligned with long term career plans where possible.

And managers still need to hold employees accountable for development promises made.  It just means that employees who want career development must actively pursue their own development opportunities.

Fortunately, there are plenty of career development opportunities for those willing to look.  Multiple websites offer university level courses in the topic of your choice for free.  And there are websites (like Lynda.com) where for a small fee you can learn how to do just about anything not to mention the plethora of meetups and user groups and forums where people are mentoring and coaching and sharing knowledge freely with anyone interested.  Add to those, the endless supply of volunteering and community service opportunities with organizations offering challenges, new skills and experiences to anyone willing to put in the elbow grease and hours.  Access to career development opportunities is wide open and as such, employees aren’t at the mercy of their managers and companies to develop them anymore.

With opportunities all around, career development has become an employee responsibility- to themselves and their futures.

What say you? Agree or disagree? Please comment below.