A white arrow bouncing upwards on wooden shelves against a blue background, symbolising career progression.
Image: © Formatoriginal/Stock.adobe.com

Career progression: Think down the corridor, not down the street

26 May 2023

Expleo’s Megan Lewis and Cloudera’s Jamie Griffin on how companies can boost talent retention by supporting their staff to build their careers in-house.

It’s fair to say that there is no such thing as a defined career path for anyone nowadays, and that includes sci-tech professionals perhaps more than in any other industry.

As we’ve been seeing with the debates around ChatGPT, for example, evolving tech means job requirements are changing – and that’s before you get into other things like our personalities or our circumstances that have a huge impact on where we go in our careers.

In any case, good employers need to cater to their employees and make sure they know what kinds of avenues are available to them within a company.

And it’s worth noting that workers’ career progression needs can change depending on who they are. Older workers may be interested in career pivots or switching between different departments, while younger employees may need help figuring out what role is what and where they might be suited. Employees with leadership potential need to be encouraged to prove their mettle.

“Talent is vital to the success of any organisation, so retention of the best talent is key. Understanding what’s important to their top talent means organisations retain their best people,” said Brían Sutton, client relationship manager at Great Place to Work.

“Surveys tell us mentoring, inter-departmental project experience, new technologies and ensuring psychologically safe environments all provide anchors. These colleagues then become champions for the culture and can progress their career while staying aligned to the mission and vision thus delivering effectively for the organisation and further building the desired culture.”

‘More and more people are displaying entrepreneurial traits, hungry to learn new skills in different divisions and not be single threaded to a specific career path, or defined by moving up the hierarchy’

To find out more about how companies can provide exciting career progression opportunities, we spoke to Cloudera’s Jamie Griffin and Expleo’s Megan Lewis.

Both Expleo and Cloudera were featured on this year’s Best Workplaces in Tech list. Expleo announced hiring plans for Galway earlier this year.

‘Progression isn’t always a promotion’

According to Lewis, who is a HR manager at Expleo, it’s best to be open and just ask employees what they want. “Start by asking your people what they want. Sometimes progression isn’t always a promotion, progression can be working with new tools, learning new skills, doing a different job,” she pointed out.

Cloudera’s senior director of global commercial operations, Griffin, agrees with this sentiment. He adds that he’s seen a desire for people to “move laterally” within their company and take on new challenges “rather than just aspiring to move vertically within their own function”.

“More and more people are displaying entrepreneurial traits, hungry to learn new skills in different divisions and not be single threaded to a specific career path, or defined by moving up the hierarchy.”

Griffin also thinks that leaders are recognising that it is “mutually beneficial to see employees moving down the corridor, not down the street” in terms of career progression.

But encouraging talent to try new experiences rather than abandon ship is still a challenge that HR leaders need to get to grips with.

In Lewis’s experience the most interesting roles for workers lie in areas that are not as clearly defined as others. There’s space to make one’s own opportunities with support from HR – and this can be rewarding for companies as well as their workers.

“I would suggest starting by looking at the opportunities and gaps within the business and try to mould a role into something that aligns with those gaps,” Lewis advises, pointing out that whether you’re a worker or an employer, taking a new uncharted approach will require thought and research.

Promote opportunities, learning and development

Lewis suggests that companies focus on “promoting training and development opportunities, encouraging mentoring and job shadowing, rotating employee job roles, supporting work-life balance and creating a succession planning programme.”

Both Expleo and Cloudera have established programmes for learning and development. Lewis says that Expleo has had many people start their careers at the company on its graduate programme before progressing into management and even global or exec positions.

“We like to promote and grow talent and leadership capabilities within the business. One previous graduate went on to be featured in the Irish 30 under 30 list three times,” she says referring to Rebecca Keenan who is now Expleo’s global head of process automation.

When someone begins their career at Expleo, they are given a career map which details different pathways for progression within the company. And every employee is assigned a career coach with whom they can discuss their career progression plans. The coach might recommend different learning options which can be accessed through Expleo’s own training academy.

The academy runs all kinds of courses from soft skills to tech skills. “Training our people is something that is extremely important to us. We offer all employees a minimum of five days training, with an emphasis on the word ‘minimum’”, says Lewis.

Investing bears fruit long term

According to Griffin, Cloudera has been investing in setting up its own learning and development team to find emerging talent.

The three-year-old programme “is now starting to bear significant fruit,” he says. “From this, we have a very active partnership with local colleges and universities, bringing onboard multiple interns each summer, and sponsoring industry collaboration projects for Masters-level groups. This is a great opportunity for us to learn from academia, and the ‘quid pro quo’ is we build a pipeline of exceptional talent.”

Like Expleo, Cloudera also does much of its training in-house. It encourages workers to learn not only tech skills but also qualities like inclusive leadership and performing well in interviews.

“Cloudera also has a very robust tuition assistance programme, which supports employees to pursue professional qualifications and achieve personal goals,” says Griffin. “We want all of our employees to become subject matter experts in their current role, push themselves to continuously improve, and ensure their career has a long-term growth trajectory.”

‘We like to promote and grow talent and leadership capabilities within the business. One previous graduate went on to be featured in the Irish 30 under 30 list three times’

As for how employers can measure the success of their efforts to embed career progression opportunities into their businesses, Griffin recommends that HR and talent teams look at conversion ratios of interns to graduate roles, and graduate to senior analyst roles.

“They can examine the percentage of leadership roles filled by internal candidates, and also what percentage of role vacancies are filled by internal employee referrals. That is a key benchmark for employees’ willingness to recommend the company as an employer of choice.”

It is also important that companies put career progression front and centre of their culture. “Allow people the freedom to get involved in cross-functional projects and the opportunity to develop new skills simply through immersion with their colleagues,” says Griffin.

“Then, by design, every person in the company should be tying back their individual and team goals to the mission and goals of the company. Everyone has the same sense of purpose and unity, and there is a much deeper sense of career progression.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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