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ATD Blog

How to Create Career Paths for Employees

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

What’s the secret to developing engaged, hard-working employees who help your organization thrive? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that simple, but supporting employees in their professional aspirations is one crucial piece of the puzzle.

Employee career pathing is a valuable tool to support team members’ professional aspirations. Discover practical strategies to create career paths that work and empower your employees to achieve their goals.

A career path or career development plan is a strategy that outlines how an individual can advance in their career. This varies for each employee depending on their individual goals. For example, some team members may want to reach a specific position within an organization, while others may want to switch to a different field or industry.

An employee’s career path will have several steps: Some may be forward, while others are lateral. For example, a marketing professional may have a career path that looks like this:

  • Social Media Coordinator
  • Content Marketing Specialist (lateral)
  • Content Marketing Manager (forward)
  • Director of Content (forward)
  • Chief Marketing Officer (forward)

Benefits of Career Pathing

A career development plan can help workers enhance their skills and knowledge in their current roles and pursue promotions or future positions.

Career pathing can also help organizations attract and retain talent; 94 percent of employees say they would stay at a company longer if the company invested in helping them learn.

Creating career paths for employees can also help you:

  • Upskill and reskill your workforce. (This makes your team more resilient because employees can fill positions when colleagues leave, or you can promote internal candidates to upper-level positions.)
  • Keep employees motivated and increase productivity.
  • Ensure employees feel like a valued part of the team.

Career Paths in 3 Steps

1) Set goals. Just like your GPS needs a destination to plan your route, managers must understand an employee’s desired outcome to create an effective career path. Understanding an employee’s goals can help you provide the right resources, opportunities, and training to support their aspirations.


Start the goal-setting process during onboarding. Although aspirations may change, setting goals at the beginning of the journey shows employees you are invested in their growth and success. First, map out short- and long-term goals and areas of interest. Then, determine the best goal-setting process, whether you use SMART goals or objectives and key results (OKRs).

Goal-setting helps you and your employees plan what needs to be done. Setting goals can help employees focus, trigger new behaviors, and provide momentum to help them succeed.

Once you’ve outlined career goals, determine how often you will discuss these with your employee (preferably at a regular cadence), and set milestones to keep them on track.

2) Identify skills gaps. Determine the skills, knowledge, and aptitudes needed to achieve their goals. Understanding a team member’s strengths and skills gaps will help you determine what they need to improve and progress.

This starts with understanding their current strengths and any gaps between their skills and the skills they need for career progression. You can use a survey, a self-assessment, or a skills gap analysis to gauge an employee’s current skill set or knowledge. For example, an employee who aspires to be a manager may have a skills gap analysis that looks like this:

Current Role
Current Skills
Content Marketing Specialist
Content creation
Copy editing
Project management
Desired Role
Necessary Skills
Content Marketing Manager
Managing people
Creating and maintaining an editorial calendar
Managing freelance writers
Establishing partnerships and sponsorships

3) Provide necessary resources. Managers are integral in equipping employees with the necessary resources to learn, grow, and advance. Mentorship and ongoing learning opportunities are effective strategies to support employees in achieving their goals.

Mentorship—pairing employees with more experienced colleagues—not only gives them a source for professional advice, but also helps them navigate their current roles, understand what they need to do to advance, and provides a resource for problem solving and questions. In addition, mentors can share their own experiences, both good and bad, to help mentees avoid the same mistakes or setbacks.


A professional mentor can provide real-life insight to help employees reach their goals and have a more positive work experience. Nine in 10 workers with a mentor say they are happy with their jobs, and according to a 2020 Vistage survey, 86 percent of CEOs say mentors were a crucial part of their career accomplishments.

Learning and development (L&D) enables employees to acquire knowledge, skills, and aptitudes and apply them to excel in their roles and future positions.

L&D doesn’t just help employees advance; it’s also crucial in attracting and retaining talent. A LinkedIn Learning report shows that 59 percent of employees joined companies for better career paths or more opportunities. Conversely, employees who don’t believe they can achieve their career goals with a current employer are 12x more likely to consider leaving.

There’s no limit to the learning opportunities you can provide. You can find a format that works for your team members, from articles and guides to videos, tutorials, instructor-led, and asynchronous lessons.

Using Career Paths to Empower Your Team

Career pathing should never be a set-it-and-forget-it strategy, but instead, an ongoing process that you revisit, reevaluate, and revise as necessary. Bake in time during one-on-ones to discuss career progression and goals and help employees troubleshoot any challenges.

When you take a vested interest in your team members’ professional goals and help them map out a plan, you foster a culture of ongoing support and learning that creates an engaged, unstoppable team.

Learn more strategies to attract, develop, and retain talent at WorkRamp LEARN, a virtual summit for people, revenue, and customer education leaders and professionals.

About the Author

Maile Timon is WorkRamp’s content strategist. She has over 11 years of experience in content marketing and SEO and has written for several publications and industries, including B2B, marketing, lifestyle, health, and more. When she’s not writing or developing content strategies, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her family.

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