Sophisticated learning management systems should offer employees the chance to plot their own learning paths. Where will they lead?
Creating a plan or pathway that tells an individual what skills, competencies and learning they need to progress to the next stage of their career, could be one of the most effective ways of encouraging employees to take control of their own career.
"All of this comes on the back of the move to self-managed learning and the idea that people will continuously drive their self-development, says David Kesby, consultant at Wilmslow and London-based learning and development consultancy Academee, which created an online career mapping tool used by global IT services company Fujitsu Services, and is also working on learning pathways for the L&D function of a government agency.
Clearly, this represents a major cultural change, requiring individuals to be active rather than passive about their development, and the shift isn't going to happen over night. As Kesby neatly sums up: "It's of the moment but will happen over a long period of time."
A number of organisations are putting in place mechanisms and tools to better help their employees develop a career path at a company, but it isn't just about empowering them and encouraging them to take more control over their development. It's also about addressing issues such as retention, internal mobility and employer brand.
It seems that even when organisations do offer good career paths and opportunities, this isn't always the perception of the employees. This was one of Fujitsu's motivations for implementing the tool and also that of specialist publisher and information services provider Informa, when it went as far as creating an entire virtual island on the digital universe of Second Life, where employees can explore a range of career paths.
Choose a path
So what options are open to those who want to help employees plot a career path within the company?
There are different approaches an organisation can take in offering learning pathways, but increasingly some form of online tool will be at the centre of it. Based on information supplied by the employee, such as career preferences, along with details of the roles and opportunities available at the company, such tools will automatically work out a path to get there, highlighting which competencies are needed and suggesting the best learning opportunities to fill any skills gaps.
Such tools may be built into learning or talent management systems but providers are also creating bespoke and customisable options.
One of the newest dedicated career planning tools is Talent Navigator, launched by Wokingham-based Head Light Communications in May. It typically sits on a corporate intranet. It helps individuals explore other roles in the organisation and highlights any skill gaps that need to be filled so they can put themselves in the frame for such a job. Managing director Ian Lee-Emery also believes it will help organisations publicise job roles and career opportunities and therefore improve retention.
"One of the aspects of the tool is that it can help individuals better position themselves for a particular job when it comes along," he says. "This could be for a particularly sought-after role. The tool will help give a more detailed understanding of what that job requires."
Having used the tool, a individual could then go to a line manager with a "legitimate" learning request and discuss how the required learning opportunities could be created.
Brighton-based e-learning provider Futuremedia got into the field of learning pathways with its healthcare client Bupa several years ago.
It recently launched the Performance Zone for Bupa. It's a personalised learning environment that will be used by 3,200 staff in Bupa's UK membership services division.
Performance Zone is divided into five zones: My Zone, Perform, Inform, Transform and Extras. Transform allows individuals to look at their current role and what learning they need to master, says Carole Bower, Futuremedia's senior vice-president of learning.
It also allows them to explore 'aspired roles'. Learners can view their learning in bite-size pieces and customise their user interface. The zones also provide a direct link to a learning library and learning management systems.
Bower believes that such tools form an important part of an organisation's attraction and retention strategy and help ensure the right learning is prescribed in performance reviews. "I think we are seeing a cultural shift, and learning and performance need to be more related."
Her comment is particularly timely, since we are certainly seeing performance and learning tools move closer together.
At the end of last year, Brighton-based learning and performance company Brightwave developed an e-learning platform for the City of Edinburgh Council. It has a 360-degree feedback tool built in to report on employees' strengths and areas for development. Although not directly a career management tool, employees and managers can use it and it is designed to encourage personal development.
Brightwave believes its 360-feedback tool will help learners and their managers identify specific training needs and enable suggestions about what training should be implemented for them to develop in their daily roles.
Charles Gould, Brightwave managing director, believes we will see more sophisticated mapping and career development tools emerging because technology will enable it. "But the key is to have a method that meets the need of the employees and the organisation."
Employers should talk to their learning systems providers about competency matching and career management options as they may already exist.
Tools such as eXact Portfolio from Giunti Labs, for instance, can be integrated with components of its learn eXact suite for skills gaps analysis and competency management. As well as details of work experience and qualifications, an eXact Portfolio allows employees to record, edit and share information not only on their skills and experience but also their interests, goals and personal development plans.
Similarly, worldwide on-demand talent system provider Cornerstone offers a performance module that puts together career development and learning plans aligned to filling competency gaps and aimed at improving performance.
"Organisations need products in place to give employees learning and career paths," says Julie Norquist Roy, vice-president, marketing. "Some companies are doing performance reviews but are not then providing the learning activity to help employees grow and develop."
As well as traditional career planning tools, Cornerstone believes organisations should take a more holistic approach when it comes to helping employees find out about career options available. Later this year it will launch a social networking tool called CornerstoneConnect, which will encourage more collaboration across organisations. In terms of career management and planning, Norquist believes that by making it easier to connect with peers, individuals can use it to find out more about what a role really entails.
"I believe we have to go beyond learning and also make sure people know why they are learning. The networking tool will help give them a bird's eye view of what they can aspire to and help benchmark their own skills against peers in these roles," she says. "People talk about these kind so things anyway, so we may as well help them connect."
Case study: Fujitsu Services
In 2006, an employee survey carried out by global IT services company Fujitsu Services revealed that many staff felt it wasn't doing enough to support their career development. There were opportunities for development but staff felt Fujitsu wasn't delivering in this area.
London and Wilmslow-based learning and development consultancy Academee came up with the idea for a Career Mapping tool, an interactive online application that presents career planning information in an easy-to-understand and accessible way. Users can move through potential career paths from one job role to another and, as they do so, a list of required competencies for that job is generated.
A diagnostic section was also added to help employees identify their own career preferences and motivations, as well as a skills gap analysis tool, the results of which feed into a personal development plan.
Other features include a development options menu, to show what kind of learning and development choices are available. These range from professional qualifications to what Fujitsu describes as 'light touch' suggestions, "like reading the Financial Times to increase financial awareness in a situation where a formal finance training programme isn't appropriate."
There is also a link to Fujitsu's New Opportunities website, where users can subscribe and receive e-mail notification of any appropriate roles as they come up.