In a jobs market fuelled by the relentless pursuit of specialist skills, career development has become a core prerequisite for sought-after STEM professionals.
They are no longer prepared to sweat-out probationary periods waiting to find out if employers will provide opportunities to extend their roles and responsibilities within organisations. The most sought-after specialists are looking to have career development planned into offered jobs from the moment they start work.
SThree’s ‘How the STEM World Works’ research indicates that the employment expectations of STEM workers have diversified around staple benefits such as competitive salaries and flexible working. They want to see career development paths because it can help them achieve wider career aims such as taking on new professional challenges and responsibilities that enable them to make more of a positive difference in the world.
A priority for candidates
Our research confirms the intrinsic importance of career development: 42% of total respondents cite career development as an important factor when searching for new roles, behind salary/benefits (60%), flexible working options (54%) and work/life balance (53%).
But despite its importance, many employers don’t put sufficient emphasis on career development, says Dan Lucy, Principal Research Consultant at the Institute of Employment Studies (IES). “It is rising up the agenda and indeed becoming necessary due to the tightness of the UK labour market, the widespread recruitment and retention challenges employers are experiencing, and the need to become an ‘employer of choice’ for the people and skills one’s organisation needs. A central part of being an employer of choice is a reputation for career progression and development.”
David Morgan, Chief Executive at the Career Development Institute (CDI), meanwhile, sees a varied picture when it comes to the emphasis employers place on workforce career development.
“Development goals will vary for each person and go beyond seeking promotion in their current work area. It might mean learning new skills within their role, engaging in wider business activities, or moving into roles in other areas."
“Outlining career development opportunities in your organisation should lead to more high-quality applicants and greater loyalty,” Morgan says. “Development goals will vary for each person and go beyond seeking promotion in their current work area. It might mean learning new skills within their role, engaging in wider business activities, or moving into roles in other areas. Effective career development supports these different pathways with a range of opportunities to learn new skills and to gain exposure to new environments.”
“With the external market so challenging, there is increased emphasis on better developing and deploying the current workforce,” says Lucy at the IES. “The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s latest resourcing and talent planning survey highlighted that employers’ most common response to recruitment challenges was upskilling existing employees. All in all, it’s pretty clear employers would be well-served by putting in place career development support and structures.”
Planned from the start
A key reality for employers to understand is that career development is not seen as something to be addressed over the longer term. STEM professionals now have set expectations in terms of career development that’s planned in from the outset when they are evaluating prospective new roles and career changes.
It’s important that employers create an open dialogue to understand each individual’s drivers and aspirations
“There is certainly a growing candidate emphasis on career development,” says Morgan at the CDI. “While some people think in more linear progression, others seek a more fluid approach.”
To this end it’s important that employers create an open dialogue to understand each individual’s drivers and aspirations, Morgan believes, then shape a range of development opportunities that enable the individual to find their path while meeting the skills needs of the business.
“This might be formal training, on-the-job development, project opportunities to learn new skills, job shadowing, volunteering opportunities, and more,” Morgan explains.
There are other benefits to be gained by employees. Implementing an effective career development ethos strengthens workforce cohesion and employees require less supervision or support to do their jobs.
“One of the key questions or challenges in embedding effective career development in organisations is working-out the appropriate balance of responsibility between employer and individual,” says Lucy. “At times in the past, the narrative has been very much ‘it’s up to the individual’. In practice, for it to be successful there needs to be a partnership between employer and individual.”
Implementing an effective career development ethos strengthens workforce cohesion and employees require less supervision or support to do their jobs.
Lucy adds: “Even if an individual is highly self-motivated, they still need the organisation to articulate the types of opportunities and career paths available and provide structures and support to help the individual navigate organisational processes and politics through which opportunities are made available.”
Building a stronger workforce
An effective career development ethos can strengthen workforce cohesion and agility through embedding wider understanding of the business, better organisational networks, and a learning culture, according to Lucy. It also makes employees better at self-management.
“Employers need to enhance the career management skills of their workforce – their capacity to learn, take ownership of their development, and build resilience to overcome barriers and disappointments,” says Morgan. “These core skills will enable employees to make the most of the opportunities available and grow within the employer.”
“Employers need to enhance the career management skills of their workforce – their capacity to learn, take ownership of their development, and build resilience to overcome barriers and disappointments,”
So overall, not only is a clear career development plan essential when recruiting key STEM talent, it is also good for the company, creating a motivated and skilled workforce and providing an edge in competitive markets.
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