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THE CAREER LATTICE
Combat Brain Drain, Improve Company Culture, and Attract Top Talent
By JOANNE CLEAVER
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Joanne Cleaver
All rights reserved.
The Career Lattice: Sustainable Growth for Employees, Organizations, and the Local Economy
Andrew Madison's career had come to a dead end. For 16 years, he had been a field service engineer, helping customers of his employer, a semiconductor manufacturer, get their projects up and running. He was already weary of the travel, and of fixing glitches but never seeing the overall results of his work, when the Great Recession hit in 2008. His employer offered him a buyout. He took it.
But where could he go? He had an associate's degree in electrical engineering enhanced by additional certifications, but he knew he didn't want to just take another job based on his technical qualifications. He wanted to move into a growth industry, but he also wanted a job that would expand his professional horizons in a more satisfying direction. He thought he would make a good project manager, but so far he hadn't the opportunity to try that.
Paving a new career path one step at a time, Madison traded on his most reliable aptitude: his ability to master new technical skills quickly. After six months in a specialized solar training program, he became qualified to design and supervise the installation of photovoltaic panels and thermal solar water heaters. "I didn't know what I wanted to do in solar, but I knew I didn't want to be on the roof, doing installations," he says. Madison realized that he'd underestimated the value of his long track record of collaborating with customers. He had put himself through college doing phone sales for a telecommunications company. And he liked figuring out how to solve customers' problems.
Solar sales and design was the perfect intersection of what he was trained to do, what he was good at, and where he wanted to go. So, he took his passion for solar energy to Novastar Energy, a San Antonio company that designs and installs solar energy systems for homes and businesses. His job was to scope out the project, draw the conceptual design, and make sure that customers got the results they anticipated. "Once they have their systems installed, and their electric meters are running backwards, they're giddy," he says of homeowners.
Madison sees a bright future for his career, even if solar economic development slows. "At first, my move to solar was not about the money; it was about doing something I was passionate about. Now, I see that my skill set is in demand in many different ways and even different industries. I have confidence in my opportunities, even in this economy," he says. And based on his newfound appreciation of his people skills, he envisions himself as a team leader, or even a regional sales manager. Because he is now on a career lattice, Andrew Madison will never again have to back out of a career cul-de-sac.
Until now, the prevailing Western career metaphor has been the ladder, straightforward and steep. The ladder's message is that the main way up is either to wait until everyone ahead has moved up a rung, opening a logical and obvious, if incremental, spot ... or, if you have the stomach for it, to claw over the backs of those between you and a promotion. The ladder has worked for a few people. They are called CEOs. But in an era of team-centric, flattened organizations, with technology changing whom we work with and how, the ladder is rotting away.
The emerging model is the lattice. A career lattice is a diagonal framework that braids lateral experiences, adjacent skill acquisition, and peer networking to move employees to any of a variety of positions for which they have become qualified. About a third of U.S. employers have adopted some sort of structured lateral career path for at least some of their employees. The ladder stifles the creativity and flexibility that workers need if they are to meet the challenges of a global economy. The career lattice is win-win-win, short term and long term, for employees, managers, organizations, and even economic growth.
The Career Lattice explores the advantages and flexibility of career lattices for individuals, for managers, and for talent planners such as human resources staff and executives. It draws on the deep expertise of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), which invented the lattice model that has been widely adopted in healthcare and businesses. CAEL's programs have also popularized strategic lateral career paths. In addition, The Career Lattice mines the author's understanding of workplace cultures and programs, developed through the research projects designed and managed by her firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc.
Grounded in proven practices, the strategies outlined in The Career Lattice will show you how to adopt strategic lateral career paths for your organization, your staff, and yourself. The ability to lattice to adjacent positions will be the defining career skill of the next two decades.
How Lattices Work for All
Politics aside, it's clear that the old economic growth drivers must be reinvented. Career lattices are a flexible model for entire industries—even for entire regions. Lattices deliver immediate results while reorienting workplaces for long-term growth, which explains why they are being woven into progressive industries and economic growth coalitions.
Andrew Madison's story is being replicated across San Antonio as its employers and policy makers align behind Mission Verde, the region's plan to drive sustainable economic growth through sustainable energy industries. CAEL designed green career lattices for Mission Verde (see Figure 1-1). Now, Alamo Colleges, a system of five community colleges in the metro San Antonio area, is building on that design with "green" training curricula. As employers, economic development leaders, academics, and trainers absorbed the profound shift in perspective inherent in the career lattice, many of them came to realize that their own career paths had shifted from the ladder to the lattice. Mission Verde is on the leading edge of a trend that will transform American workplaces, workforces, and the definition of career success. This realization has made lattice advocates of the Mission Verde collaborators. Their stories are told throughout this chapter. As you see how many of the Mission Verde leaders are integrating the lattice into workplaces and their own lives, you will see how you can use career lattices to foster economic growth that is broad-scale and, just as important, self-fueling.
San Antonio is using a macro-lattice model to anticipate the skills that green energy employers will need. The Mission Verde project trains workers for green energy jobs while simultaneously building demand for energy projects, so that green energy companies will need those newly trained workers. The career lattice plays out for organizations in the same way: it is a fresh approach to ensuring that the right talent is available at the right time for new jobs and hard-to-fill jobs. And for individuals, the career lattice provides direction for constant, consistent growth so that they are qualified for a range of positions, not just the single step up that is available on the ladder.
Career Lattices Solve the Skills Gap
Millions of people are caught in a perpetual career catch-up. They gain a certain degree of experience and expertise in a seemingly safe job category ("They'll never outsource this!"), only to find that, in fact, they can outsource this, and their final weeks are spent training their overseas replacements. "As I speak around the country, I especially find professionals who have never had to look for a job having a hard time accepting this. They have their degrees, they advanced their career
Excerpted from THE CAREER LATTICE by JOANNE CLEAVER. Copyright © 2012 by Joanne Cleaver. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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