From ladders to lattices: supporting members' career pathways

Although it is unrealistic to generalise about whole generations of individuals, it is important to consider how the current education environment and working world of those in their twenties and thirties differs from the way it was when earlier generations - including those who may now be in leadership positions or making key decisions within professional membership bodies - entered the workforce.


Ladders and lattices

The ‘job for life’ was the norm for many in previous generations, however the days of climbing the ‘career ladder’ are widely cited as being over, replaced by the ‘career lattice’ or ‘career web’. Employers are adapting their corporate structures and processes to align with the changing needs and expectations of today’s workplace, and employees are following a different kind of career pathway.

Flexibility and stability?

Flexible is desirable – indeed expected – by many Millennials. However, the uncertainty of many aspects of their world means they want flexibility as well as stable employment. Although contracts and freelance work proliferate as the gig economy continues to grow, 70% of those in mature economies would prefer full-time/permanent employment over freelance/consultant work.  (Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017).  

Despite this, the number of microbusinesses and SMEs has increased dramatically in recent years and represents the majority of businesses in the UK. There is therefore a reasonable chance that a significant proportion of young people will, through choice or otherwise, be working for themselves or in a small business.

Supporting different career pathways

What does this mean for membership bodies, looking to recruit and retain members and support them in their careers?  Ladders of progression may still be the preferred pathway for some: just over a third of recent graduates in our 2018 sector study who described their career goals wanted to reach senior-level roles or have high levels of responsibility.  But many - particularly younger - members may not be following a linear career path or are only planning for the short-term.  And whether currently studying or recently graduated, young professionals are predominantly looking to gain new knowledge and skills and find a job – above all other services that a professional body might typically offer.

The solution for membership bodies is quite clear, really: ensure you know what it’s like to be studying or working in your sector.  What are the education opportunities and how can you contribute, perhaps through university partnerships? How does your membership offer support those undertaking apprenticeships?  Do you know your members - who are they and how you can help them? What relationships do you have with employers and what do you provide to support small businesses and sole traders? 

Above all, have you considered your membership journeys, and are they flexible enough to support career lattices as well as ladders…?