Catalysts for Career Development: Four Case Studies

Article excerpt

Effective career development systems don't materialize--they evolve. One thoughtfully planned initiative can spark, enhance, or refine other efforts. That's what synergism is all about: capitalizing on disparate strengths to heighten their overall effect.

What practices best serve as catalysts for systemic career development programs? As part of our survey of the state of the art in organizational career development, we examined practices in career development that can trigger development of a full-fledged career development system. Here are four exemplary career development practices identified in our study.

3M's Job Information System. In the late 1980s, largely in response to needs expressed by employees, 3M created a job-posting system to help employees take charge of their own careers. The Job Information System helps managers identify suitable internal candidates and helps employees identify skills they need in order to prepare for different jobs.

The system posts jobs electronically; employees can call a hot line if they have questions. More than 98 percent of all jobs at 3M are listed, and employees may apply for any listed job for which they feel qualified. Hiring managers respond to all candidates through a process for feedback that users say has improved information-sharing throughout the company.

3M designed the Job Information System as part of an overall human resource system geared toward matching business needs with employee potential. The system complements a human resource review process that covers everyone at 3M. The Job Information System is in place at 3M facilities across the United States, and 3M is contemplating an international rollout of the program.

One interesting result of this approach is the high percentage of applications for positions that are lateral moves rather than promotions, which suggests that employees are thinking developmentally as they use the system.

AT&T's Alliance Learning Center. A partnership between AT&T and two unions (the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), the Alliance Learning Center provides training, retraining, and career development opportunities for AT&T union members. Serving roughly 3,500 employees in New England, the center offers

* a prepaid tuition program covering area schools

* on-site classes taught by center staff and AT&T employees

* individual career and education counseling

* a career development course that includes techniques for job enrichment

* career discussions with supervisors

* coaching training for supervisors

* a career library.

The high level of employee participation in the center indicates the success of this innovative labor/management collaboration. Technical managers who were traditionally opposed to such "soft areas" as career development now rely heavily on the center to provide HR-related services to their employees.

The center is linked to AT&T's HR department through a referral system as well as ongoing discussions of assessment, promotion, and movement of employees. …