Feature article

Job hunters are accepting roles with better career prospects

Improved career prospects are the driving force behind the motivation to accept new roles

Last updated: 15 May 2023

Job hunters told us in our Employer and Job Hunter Intentions Report that while salary was very important, they’re accepting new jobs because they’re offering better career prospects than the roles they’re currently in.

Career progression was one of the three main motivators for Kiwi this year alongside money and travel, Kiwi job hunters told us. Better career prospects were over 30% more important in 2023 than 2022 (21% vs 16%).

And, as more Gen Z people join the workforce, they’re especially hungry to see career progression in their next role (25% Gen Z vs 22% for 36–45 year olds). With the majority of the workforce (74%) either actively searching for, or open to, accepting a role if they were offered one, the pressure is on employers to improve the perception of career pathways at their organisations for new hires and existing employees.

How to keep your staff happy and fulfilled in this competitive market?

So, with staff churn still a major concern among employers in 2023 – it was the main driver for employers’ recruitment in 2022 (54%) and continues to be a major influence in 2023 – how can you convince your staff that your organisation offers great career prospects? And what are other companies, winning your talent, doing right?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be about having a career path at the firm for every employee to ascend into the stratosphere and one day become the CEO.

Career progression looks different for each individual, says Nat Milne, founder of The People Place, an HR consultancy which works with small businesses on their HR needs and organisational structures.

It’s about realising that growth can look sideways as well as up, she says.

“In our little organisation, not everyone wants to go up. You don’t need layers of seniority, so what does growth look like for the kind of people we want in our organisation?

It’s about being clear on what the opportunities are, she says.

One of her consultants has been in the business for years, she’s had very little progress upwards in terms of seniority, but she’s so valuable to the business and she’s broadened her skills in her time at the company, says the HR expert.

Clarity on career progression at your company is really important, right from the recruitment process, what does growth and motivation look like, what are the opportunities? asks Nat.

Nat works with her SME clients on developing a capability development programme, in which they go through all the skills they need, and what they need to look like at each layer of the business. This is useful for when an employee wants to grow, they can look at the roles available and work with the employer, who can help them build those skills. And, when a role becomes available. they’re in good shape to go for it.

“By having a structure like this, you work out what you need from people, and have the capability to map out what people need to do to be in each of those roles,” says Nat.

It might be that career progression for an employee is an opportunity to work on special projects, that they’re seconded into, and as the employer, you’re moving the business forward too. This can be an attractive sideways progression, says Nat.

Something that the HR consultant has seen employers do well is almost over-celebrate when an employee has a role change or a secondment. “It sends the message: ‘We’re an organisation that doesn’t expect you to sit in the same job forever,” says Nat.

Internal communication among staff is really important for this, she advises.

Use internal communications to help broadcast opportunities in the company

Internal communications expert, Ron Murray, author of “Talking with Your People: a Roadmap to Achieve Better Employee Communications in the Corporate World,” works at food assurance services company, AsureQuality (AQ) writing articles regularly on staff members who’ve had varied careers at the company, to inspire other employees.

“People who’ve been there for 30 years talk about what’s kept them going, moving sideways into a project that’s been interesting to work on, for instance,” says the AQ internal communications manager.

“The interviews have been a deliberate process of bringing out the stories that show the richness of working opportunities in the organisation,” says Ron. A person might move from environmental testing to going out and doing field assurance, auditing, and then move back into a finance role.”

Companies should be clear on what the plan is, with these internal communications. If, as an employer, you want to try and build a culture of people knowing what opportunities are available in the organisation, the articles are going to have a set of messages and a call to action at the end, which says to employees: ‘We value you, we’d like to develop you, and we’d like to explore other opportunities with you,’ explains Ron.

The internal communications is also highlighting the development of new products and services which employees can put their hands up to work on. “We want to give the troops a vision of the richness that’s happening in the organisation and what you need to do to get into that work,” says the internal communications manager.

Communications on training and development are also part of the conversation with staff looking for career pathways, adds Ron. The culture of the company will also mean that team leaders know their people well and are having regular conversations with them, he adds.

At AQ, regular posts go out internally of the jobs that are available. “You want to keep in front of people that they’re not bolted into a role. We clearly value the job you’re doing, but we don’t deny you the chance to look at further development, and a variation of what you’re doing,” explains Ron.

“You need to say to people:’We’re an organisation that encourages you to look at other opportunities in the company. We want to keep and nurture you and don’t want to keep you in a rut,’” explains the internal communications expert.

While some businesses may do their internal communications through email and Slack, at AQ, Ron sends a newsletter both via email and a link for managers to print out physical copies for staff to read on their breaks.

AQ has partnerships with charities where its staff can volunteer and this brings different members of staff together, he adds.

“This can be a great cross-pollination of staff. When different people of the organisation are talking together about what they do, that’s gold if it comes off in internal comms terms,” says Ron.

It’s about creating a culture of inclusive leadership

To leadership consultant, Dr Ellen Joan Nelson, a company that encourages career progression to staff is one with good leaders.

“It’s about having conversations between leaders and their team, with leaders investing in the time to stop what they’re doing and understand their employees’ interests, goals and motivations,” says Ellen.

You should be developing your staff and making sure they understand the opportunities in the business, she says.

“And that motivation will pay off in spades because people who feel like their leader gives a s**t about them and about their future, are far more engaged and committed,” says the Manawatū-based consultant who specialises in inclusive leadership.

As the leader, you should know about your staff, what’s motivating them and if their direction changes, they should come to you, argues Ellen who uses the hashtag #belongingautonomypurpose in her coaching business.

When employers complain there are fewer conversations around the water cooler because of hybrid working and this is limiting knowledge of career pathways at the company, Ellen’s not convinced.

“If organisations are relying on the water cooler then they’re missing the mark,” she says. “It’s quite lazy. Organisations should be deliberate about team morale, how to make sure people aren’t being siloed. They should be intentional about leadership and have really clear career pathways,” says the leadership coach.

Businesses have to do a better job of what career progression looks like, says Ellen.

“It doesn’t need to be linear, not everybody wants to be a CEO, but most do want progress which would look like a special project or growing the business. Or it could be personal development.”

The leadership coach notes that parents who work in part-time roles can find their career progression is inhibited and she challenges that.

“If we’re thinking about career progression, companies need to be creative. A mum working so-called school hours shouldn’t be discounted from being a contender for leadership. If that person can deliver, don’t discount them,” says the consultant.

“Part-time versus full-time, all it means is the number of hours you’re being paid for, it’s not about the value you’re delivering to the organisation,” says Ellen.

How a small business can compete with a larger business on career progression

Smaller businesses may feel that they can’t offer the same clearcut career pathways that larger firms can. But Dr Suzette Dyer, senior lecturer in Human Resource Management at Waikato University says small businesses can offer a different kind of working environment which will appeal to some. In a small group they might be doing more diverse work, rather than a siloed task.

The senior lecturer hesitates to say what the ideal organisational structure is to attract job hunters looking for career progression.

Smaller firms are more likely to be flatter, non-hierarchical organisations. And as they grow, they often find they need more skills, says the senior lecturer.

It might be that the ideal role for an existing employee isn’t something they’re ready for and the skills gap needs to be filled. A firm may not be able to provide the training and development for this but it can help staff join a professional organisation where they can get additional support and training so that they can then take on that next role, suggests Suzette. A career guidance counsellor can also offer useful help to an employee pondering their next move, says the academic.

A tip for companies experiencing staff churn: In job listings, employers should talk realistically about the career progression opportunities at the firm so that new hires don’t resign when they feel the job in reality isn’t what they were promised.

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