From Career Ladder To Career Frameworks

Supporting Employability & Workforce Skills

Supporting Employability & Workforce Skills

The concept of the career ladder and historical references have been superbly curated by the BBC in their article ‘The invention of the career ladder’ ( An excellent example of why and where the concept of career ladders arose.

Interestingly, some of the views described here by past employers are seemingly supportive to conformity and standardised workforce development attempts for today:

‘So how did the million-strong army of clerks cope with such tedium?

Partly, their lives were becoming easier, thanks to pensions and laws of employment. But more important still was the invention in the late 19th Century of the career ladder.

This idea – stolen from the military – was sheer genius when applied to office work. Promotion made the workers happier, giving them status – of the sort that pathetic Pooter craved – and some sort of emotional boost.

More important still, the ladder was a crafty way of exerting control. If you are hoping for promotion, you behave. Which means your managers don’t have to keep such a close eye on you.’

Interesting? A further note made by the author; is a relevant one in the design of jobs:

Conformity was rewarded, then as now. Modern corporations still prefer people who toe the corporate line, even if they pretend to value those who think outside the box.

The application of competences in workforce planning, may be describing a way in which we can ‘keep tabs’ on talent and skills individuals offer, between sectors – driving economy and skills currency. Supporting the whole workforce – including Gen X and Y (millennials), and encouraging employability. Unemployment would never be an issue (in an ideal world), as skills will be transferable between sectors – or rather can be recycled and better managed.

Interestingly, though the design of career frameworks is also an attempt to break free from conformity; but releasing talent and skills for progression and employability: Depending on which way you look at this. Competences and professional standards inform the design of roles and progression routes, so they are transparent for everyone.

  • They inform individuals of the skills they need for a particular role and roles they want to reach (and stick with).
  • They inform HR and organisations of the talent and skills (or competences) required for a particular role within the industry and sector they work in – working with key stakeholders; such as educationalists and professional bodies; to ensure they conform to standards, governance and competence.
  • They provide clear progression routes for individuals to make informed career decisions and clear performance benchmark for the profession.
  • They inform educationalists on the package of learning needed for the sector and industry to support a credible skilled workforce (learning and development).
  • They inform professional bodies with competence requirements for a role of the future, in the sector they represent – that should be transferable for the industry. So employers (or industry) can inform policy, both locally and nationally.

Career Frameworks enable skills and talent to flow through industry / sectors in a more efficient way; with employers clearly asserting gaps, to inform role re-design or new roles (emerging).

Individuals can understand better the sector they will work in; and want to work to – including a sense of career ownership and meaning … which should encourage loyalty, engagement and motivation.

The article ends with a note ‘… sketch by Robert Shirlaw, who worked at the bank in 1900, shows a clerk who has climbed a stair of ledgers and is waving a victory flag. He looks pretty pleased with himself there at the top, yet trapped below him are squashed clerical workers.

The caption reads: “We climb upwards on the stepping stones of our own dead selves.”‘

The idea of a Career Framework has evolved … it isn’t just about thinking of career progression vertically, but lateral as will be the case for career development today (and the future). Understanding a sector, it’s requirements, the industry requires years of experience and lateral movements across an organisation(s) will support growth, and industry knowledge. Despite it’s visual mapping; it does not evidence the stepping stones or career path required to reach the top of the career ladder.


These reflect some challenges in the development of Career Frameworks. This includes a new term being shared by strategic HR and skills development gurus – polarisation of skills.

Many support workers at the bottom of the Career Framework Level with a few at the top; but nothing in the middle. This in consultation with a sector, with multiple employers and several employees in consultation addressed the need for roles to be designed for progression – so that the knowledge from ageing workforce supports skills gaps / drives for the bottom of the career chain. Supporting succession planning. Indeed, addressing why there were no mid-level roles to support progression and employees at the extremes of the Career Framework. The discussion leads to an interesting action: To re-design workforce in a way that buffers the organisation – both top and bottom – with skills needed for progression and support; in the middle of the ‘skills chain’.

The development of non-clinical support framework developed credence for non-clinical support workers in the health sector. The diverse functions were clearly populated (using competences and professional standards) for several varied professions that aide a support worker for employability: cross profession – a first of it’s kind (for non-clinical professionals) in the UK. Some of the challenges in population was ensuring employer / employee consultations were inclusive and timely (with the 3rd largest employer in the world and within a 8 month timeframe!). Agreeing on benchmark roles for population i.e. what roles deliver, what competences can be assigned and role titles … which brings me to the discussion of titles. When global economies prospered, in an effort to select and engage the best talent; there were a myriad of role titles that individuals were enticed with. The functions performed were not that much different. Gaining agreement between employers and industry bodies on role titles and specific ‘essential functions’ can become quite difficult.

In times of economic hardship, employers are looking for ‘lean (non-embellished) roles’ i.e. core functions to be performed within budgets and timeframes – nothing more. It may also mean that there is no direct career path to the top but that we need multi-skilled (cross-sector) millennials to deal with the skills gap; and diverse yet complex industry needs.

Finally, educationalists will be keen to hear that when employers in consultation can agree on roles, title and functions using competences; it becomes clearer what modules, or learning is needed for the functions, roles assigned (in an industry). We can have economies of scale and scope … no more wasted learning modules not teaching much or nothing (if there are no individuals enrolling) and more context driven learning on the job, for when individuals need it.

Indeed when you Google Career Frameworks – the search immediately shares examples of Career Frameworks in the health sector – but the impact and evidence base for Career Frameworks reaches far wider than this sector alone.


Has the ‘Career Ladder’ concept evolved in your industry?

What would be the expected career development path for your industry?

Would a Career Framework support skills gaps in your industry?

Can you evidence career development routes from a Career Framework for your industry?

What would be the opportunities and challenges in designing a Career Framework?


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