It is what I call a captain obvious statement to say, yet, the pandemic has vastly shifted society’s view of what we want from our careers.
Yes, we all know about the high profile want for flexible work (whatever that looks like for you), but we’re also looking more at the progression paths in our industries.
Typically, every career journey has only pointed one way and that is up.
⬆️ Want more challenges? Go up
⬆️ Money? Up again!
⬆️ Oh, you want more benefits? Yes, you know where to go.
Not everyone wants to move up and take on the role of managing others.
I’d go as far as to say that many who do move into these roles should not be managing other humans. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t disagree. Yet, we play this game because it’s the only one around.
Well, right now, anyway.
Career journeys have moved from the traditional linear ladders to portfolios (and/or maps) and not everyone wants to move up and exchange more energy and time for money.
It doesn’t mean some don’t want that and that’s fine too.
In an age of the great [insert your buzzword headline of the week] movement. More of us are voting out of the traditional game of careers. Which is leading to a disrupted and somewhat unbalanced career economy.
As the game looks to be evolving, it provides each of us an opportunity to change the rules of engagement (exciting, right?).
However, in order to participate in a game with more opportunities, we must first look at improving our capabilities.
And to do this, I feel we could take inspiration from concepts such as building T-shaped skills as an individual (we’ll talk about L&D teams shortly).
Why it’s cool to be T-shaped
The T-shaped approach changes our world from only one way to progress to multiple ways.
Whether that be up, across or staying where you are and honing your craft to mastery. It’s all about choices, and, this is what will set modern forward-thinking organisations apart from the pack.
The career choices they’re able to give their people.
I’m sure many of us have seen highly skilled and talented people leave organisations because they’ve learnt that the only way to grow in a standard structure is up.
And if that’s not what they want then the options are limited.
Only so many people can go up, as the higher that funnel goes, the less space there is. Science folks!
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have promotion aspirations.
This is about recognising the options of moving up, across or just staying where you are. Sadly, this is not something we often hear or discuss in any detail within modern-day organisations.
When we talk about progression, 99% of people think about promotion.
The T-shaped concept is just one idea that helps us think deeply about how we design career growth.
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of ideas like T-shaped skills and careers.
Wants, needs and desires from careers have changed with the acceleration of hybrid and remote work.
Turns out a lot of us would rather forfeit the traditional idea of career growth to reclaim our time.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted, let’s get back to re-inventing the career ladder.
How L&D teams can fix the broken career ladder
Forget about the ladder. The ladder is gone and not useful.
Organisations that continue to invest in linear career progression frameworks are at a disadvantage. They’ll lose talent and vital skills.
This begs the question, how can we improve on what exists today?
Let’s dive into that.
I highly recommend you read this great piece from the folks at LifeLabs Learning on “why the career ladder is broken and how to develop workforces instead”.
This has, what I feel is, a great analogy for seeing our career profession like rock climbing. Where we have many options and opportunities to pivot and adapt.
One of my favourite sections is on how to frame career progression within any organisation. This is something you’ll want to save! ⬇️
“Career growth at our company is not a ladder.
It’s much more like a rock climbing adventure. We don’t offer predictable, linear paths because we’re constantly evolving as an organisation.
Instead, we invite everyone here to climb around and explore — collecting lots of transferable skills, experiences, and relationships along the way. We hope that you will apply these skills here within your role and as new opportunities open up, but we’re also excited that these skills will open new doors for you beyond our company too.
We’ll promote opportunities for development often, and we also ask that you own your own development by seeking out ways to learn and grow that most interest you while also contributing to the company.”
How does that sound? Pretty cool, right?
All of this is only possible if we change the way we look at skill building.
Instead of being obsessed with one vertical of skills in our industry, we need to open our minds and recognise what skills from other industries can help us in our journey.
This is not about being a jack of all trades. It’s about being a master in your discipline of choice and adding skills from other industries to make you even better.
Think about it for a moment.
Many senior leaders in any organisation didn’t get to where they are just knowing what’s in their technical domain.
You’ll often find they’ve worked in a variety of areas across a business where they curated a variety of useful skills and experiences that led them to their current post.
These people are living the T-shaped skills life.
We see this in what some may deem as alternative careers today. If we look at those who choose the life of a content creator as an example. Their skillset is pulled from a variety of industries.
Yes, they have deep expertise in some areas but it is the sum of their parts which makes the full product.
This is something we can amplify in the modern workplace.
Not only does it have benefits for an organisation to have people that bring a variety of skills to the table, but it’s also great for trying to future-proof our careers.
The old warning of putting all your eggs in one basket certainly rings true when it comes to the game of careers.
We all know too well that industries change, skills change and demands for roles do too.
So in order to keep pace with the world, we must be investing in ourselves constantly and not when the moment has passed.
This is how we can all keep future fit and ahead of the game (as much as we can). If you need any more inspiration, this article from HBR on why we should build career portfolios, not paths might interest you too.