3 Key Steps to Matching Today’s Skills with Tomorrow’s Careers

Talent shortages are no surprise to employers today, especially in fields like data analysis, software engineering, marketing, finance, product management, and cybersecurity. But for employers who are actively offering skilling programs in these high priority areas, why are talent pipelines still suffering for these high priority roles? According to Gartner, one in three candidates who applied to jobs in the past year first looked internally at their current organization before looking elsewhere. Why then is the talent gap still so prominent?

It boils down to a few, interwoven fundamentals and even more simply – an investment in opportunities for career growth.


The bottleneck in many talent pipelines – Gateway roles

Many of us think about talent in our organizations like a pyramid. The most senior roles in the business are in the smallest quantities at the top, with the majority of the workforce holding non-exempt roles in the middle and base. But as you look at talent distribution relative to position – from feeder roles → gateway roles →  destination roles → high-skill roles – most organizations’ talent profile looks more like a distorted hourglass. Heavy concentrations of front-line workers sit at the bottom and a heavy concentration of individual contributor roles lie at the top in high demand areas (e.g. Senior Software Engineers or Senior Cyber Security Specialist). The area between these two swells is tight and lean. The proof is in the numbers too – 63% of American workers left their jobs last year because there was no opportunity for advancement1. 

Where does the newly skilled frontline worker go after completing their cybersecurity coursework? A destination role may be too senior for their freshly minted qualifications, but a gateway role could put them on the path to get there. 

Gateway roles serve as a transition point for talent development, offering skill growth and experience acquisition. A stepping stone towards a different career long term, these roles have historically helped workers transition from lower to higher wages, in turn creating a more stable and diverse workforce. Gateway positions don’t necessarily require degrees, but they do develop the kinds of durable and transferable skills needed in many exempt roles2.

For example, project management doesn’t stand on its own. It’s tied to project schedules, work planning, governance, and navigating project management software like Asana or Jira. These skill sets quickly transfer to related roles as talent advances, helping them flex to meet changing business and career demands. In order to establish career pathways, gateway roles must be expanded.


All skilled up…and leaving to find career opportunity

With such a tight hiring market for external talent, and not enough gateway roles inside the organization, employers begin bleeding reskilled employees as they are hired away. This problem highlights the complexity and unsolved challenges faced by many organizations when it comes to providing career advancement for internal talent. Only one out of five organizations provides extensive career growth opportunities to their workforce, and only one in ten is developing career pathways to grow employees into high priority roles3. It’s a clear signal to revisit the architecture of current roles and take bold steps to build infrastructure that creates career opportunity across the organization. For companies that invest in an internal mobility strategy, the average employee tenure is 5.4 years versus only 2.9 years at companies with little to no strategy in place4.


Rebuild the work to fuel more gateway roles, and unlock career pathways

If the job opportunities you offer are the same as everyone else’s, then you are competing for pay and benefits. Employee churn will escalate as the war for talent wages on and pay structures gain steam. A common challenge for employers is the assumption that jobs are fixed, and only talent meeting job criteria can fill the role. However, by deconstructing the role itself and looking at new demands on the business, employers can ask “what new jobs can we invent that optimally combine the tasks required with talent at hand?” Work becomes more attractive, skill sets leveraged and talent shortages are mitigated as career opportunity blossoms.

3 Key Steps to filling talent pipelines with career pathways 

1. Start by looking at current job postings in critical job families. 

Do you see more junior or senior level jobs? Do you have an ample array of gateway AND destination roles? By designing development steps that integrate education, certifications and degrees with experiences, mentoring and job openings, organizations can take individuals from their current roles to higher-demand, often higher paying positions. Employees see a sightline to their next job and feel they have a decent shot at advancing. As a result, they’re more likely to stick with your business5.  Grow the talent you have today into the talent you need in the future.

2. Reevaluate norms that determine job eligibility. 

In many cases and often without realizing it, we have constructed job architectures that constrain gateway and destination roles to “campus recruits”, ignoring frontline talent within the organization who are willing to reskill.  Five or seven years experience in lateral roles can be prohibitive to an internal candidate. Consider skills acquired while on the job, institutional knowledge, company training and resulting business acumen as a counter balance if the focus is growing internal development.  

3. Consider equity and accessibility as you explore internal mobility

Internal mobility is a critical lever in creating opportunities for historically marginalized talent according to HR leaders in Fortune 100 companies across industries. For one of Guild’s employer partners, they credit their education benefits as driving noticeable equity gains, with promotion likelihood 87.5% higher for black employees participating in the program, and 70.7% higher for Hispanic or Latino employee participants6.  Consider strategies that move feeder roles into gateway roles more quickly through projects or talent management practices. Explore movement into other job families with skill adjacencies to end destination roles. 

We must do everything we can to adjust the framing of experience requirements, rethink skills required for future roles and invest in developing our own talent. 


See how Guild employer partners like Walmart, PNC and Bon Secours Mercy Health have successfully integrated Career Pathways.

1Career Pathways: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today – The Josh Bersin Company © 2022
2“Skills aren’t soft or hard — they’re durable or perishable”. ChiefLearningOfficer.com. Matthew J. Daniel. October 9, 2020
3Career Pathways: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today – The Josh Bersin Company © 2022
4Where Internal Mobility Is Most Common Since COVID-19: Top Countries, Industries, and Jobs. Gopika Maya Santhosh, October 28, 2020
5“Rejected internal applicants twice as likely to quit,” Julie Greco/Cornell Chronicle, August 31, 2021.
6 STUDY SHOWS THE BENEFITS OF WALMART EDUCATION EFFORT Retail Giant’s Live Better U Program is Proving its Value. Lumina Issue Paper. Written by Haley Glover. September 2021

Written by Matthew Daniel

Principal, Talent Strategy & Mobility

For nearly 20 years, Matthew Daniel has consulted on talent development, talent management, and HR technology strategies for Fortune 500s, including companies like Nike, Boston Consulting Group, Capital One, Chipotle, Allstate, Cigna Healthcare, Microsoft, Walmart, and General Motors. Matthew currently serves as Principal of Talent Strategy and Mobility at Guild Education, where he researches and consults on the intersection of skills, pathways, mobility, and equity in the workforce. Matthew speaks at industry events with Chief HR Officers, Chief Learning Officers, and Chief Diversity Officers, both inspiring and challenging his field. Matthew is regularly published in industry outlets like TD Magazine, CLO, Talent Management, CTDO, and Training Magazine. Matthew serves as a member of the Talent Management, Culture, and Diversity Subcommittee of the Defense Business Board, where he advises the Secretary of Defense and other Pentagon leaders on the latest in Talent Practices.

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