New JBC Research Urges Employers to Create New Non-Linear Career Pathways to Build Tomorrow’s Workforce

  • Examples of emerging practice include unlikely pathways straddling very different industries—e.g. Walmart providing front line store associates with cybersecurity training opportunities

  • The recommendations follow observations of a pandemic-related mass exodus across the global workforce, where 45% of people who took up new jobs moved to other industries

  • From teaching to hospitality to transportation, employers must now think laterally about where future talent will come from

The Josh Bersin Company, a research and advisory company focused on HR and workforce strategies, has issued timely new advice to employers on the criticality of developing new, non-linear career pathways for their staff—even if that’s via partnership with a completely different industry.

The guidance arrives at a complex time for the U.S. labor market where entire industries admit to increasingly pivotal gaps in the workforce that are widening rapidly, and seem impossible to fill.

The new strategy, published in the report, Career Pathways: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce , from The Josh Bersin Company, is geared to helping employers recognize that point when staff start to feel burnt out, jaded or restless, and begin to question their job and their career path.

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If companies fail to spot this critical inflexion point, they risk losing that individual—and to a different industry altogether. Such losses are already happening at scale in multiple sectors, including education, medicine, hospitality, and transportation. Data shows that during the pandemic, 45% of those individuals who changed jobs moved into other industries.

Employers have historically faced challenges in reversing these trends. To replenish their pipelines, says the study, they need to get ahead of the curve by identifying and training people now to fill those roles in the future. According to The Josh Bersin Company, this requires new creativity in matching disaffected employees with a different career path internally. And that path may not be immediately obvious to the employee, to HR, or to the relevant line managers or function leaders.

To join the dots, smart employers are starting to restructure their HR organization, and build Talent Intelligence resourcing which they can interrogate with the aid of AI to detect emerging skills patterns and intervene pre-emptively with optimal suggestions.

Some visionary employers are going further still—forming highly diverse partnerships with companies in other, often radically different, industries, to open up new learning and development options while offering critical sectors such as retail a new source of talent to tap into and cultivate. In one of the highest profile examples of the trend,  Walmart, through their Live Better U program and company-sponsored training, rotation, and educational assistance, is helping front line store associates develop into cyber-security roles.

The new report, available to Bersin Company members, also calls out the relative low cost of reskilling existing talent (which is exponentially more than the cost of hiring new employees), further enhanced by tax breaks for both employer and employee in some countries, including the U.S.

Supported by numerous case studies showcasing emerging best practice, the report sets out 5 strategic steps for constructing modern career pathways, incorporating critical concepts such as talent intelligence, talent mobility processes, and upskilling programs.

This study delves deeper into the recently-released findings of two Bersin Company research initiatives: the major real-world “Global Workforce Intelligence” (GWI) research project and the comprehensive Definitive Guide to Learning. In the learning study, the world-class Bersin team found that organizations today need to facilitate employee growth through career pathways to engage and retain their employees while also building the workforce their business will need for the future.

Josh Bersin, global HR research analyst and CEO of The Josh Bersin Company, said: 

“The message we’re sharing is not what many employers might expect. Companies have this idea of building a career pathway, but we don’t see that as linear anymore; now the onus is on creating new crossways trajectories.

“HR’s mission now must be about spotting and creating opportunities for individuals to develop a different part of themselves in a completely different role, or to apply the skills and knowledge they’ve gained in a new context (a marketing analyst evolving into a data science role, for instance).

“The benefits could be off the scale—both for the employee who can’t see a future in what they currently do, and for the employer who is concerned about filling talent gaps or succession planning in a whole other part of the organization where growth in demand is outstripping the current capacity to deliver.

“For employers with pronounced talent issues, this is an opportunity to really think outside the box. If you’ve got thousands of people working in jobs that naturally have a short shelf life, and meanwhile there are thousands of jobs in another industry with no one to fill them, this is a chance for everyone to win—with the right partnerships in place to provide the career pathways.

Expect to hear a lot more on this theme of people moving from role to role, across domains and across industries. And this will be especially among younger generations who are more open to portfolio careers and side hustles.”

Nehal Nangia, Director, Research L&D, and Lead Analyst in the Career Pathways guidance at The Josh Bersin Company, said:

“Career pathways are not just theoretical. This is about developing programs that can be implemented practically, that empower organizations to adjust existing benefits for greater usability, for instance by shifting from tuition reimbursement to tuition assistance. In our huge global study recently, of the current state of L&D practices, the single most impactful practice for driving talent, business and innovation outcomes was creating extensive opportunities for career growth.

“We know that if your employees don’t find opportunities inside your business, they will look for them outside. Among U.S. workers who left their current employment in 2021, 63% left because there were no opportunities for advancement. HR needs to craft real career pathways in terms of a series of career steps designed to harness adjacent skills that reassure an individual how to move to a more valued, in-demand, career with you.”