Who’s Responsible?

Find a balanced approach to reaching development goals

by Teresa Whitacre

So many unemployed people, so few jobs. Or should it be so many jobs, so few people skilled enough to be employed in those jobs? In today’s rocky economy, there are different schools of thought depending on who you’re talking to.

Experience, field of choice and educational background all factor into gaining employment and progressing in your career. One factor not often discussed is career level of the individual. A 20-something-year-old manager often has different goals and career satisfaction levels than a 40-something-year-old manager.

A vicious cycle

A recent study published in Harvard Business Review describes this phenomenon in more detail.1 The study results show that today’s early career professionals are constantly in job-search mode, always seeking a way to make it to the top in the shortest possible time.

These early career professionals are often high achievers with degrees from top universities in sought-after fields of study. Many of the professionals in the study continued interviewing and seeking other positions while still in the first year of employment. The findings also showed that early career professionals change positions or organizations, on average, after 28 months.

Researchers investigated why these top achievers would aggressively seek other options rather than try to build on what they currently have. The most common reason was change in salary. Each time an early career professional would change organizations, they would get a large increase in their compensation package. Earlier generations were not always this fortunate. Many members of earlier generations were forced to make employment changes (voluntarily or not), often for a cost—loss of or stagnant salary, less chance of upward mobility and the struggles associated with continually having to start over.

But the researchers also emphasized that increased compensation was not the only reason for early career professionals to make a leap. A lack of serious training and development was a main reason many young professionals were not satisfied with their current employers.

The employers surveyed for the study said their organization generally satisfied their training needs with on-the-job development rather than a more formal, structured program. From these responses, it seems the employers in the study valued development, training, mentoring and coaching, yet few of them currently have or plan to have these types of programs in place. Employers are hesitant to add formal training and development programs due to cost—both financial and time. Many organizations surveyed said, "If we invest in these employees, they will take our investment to greener pastures."

Thus, it becomes a vicious cycle: Employers won’t train workers because they might leave. Companies can’t find trained workers, and current workers leave because they didn’t get any training or development opportunities at their employer.

Meeting everyone’s needs

I mentor some early career professionals who echo the study’s findings and say: "If the organization doesn’t care enough about me to offer training and development, then I’ll go somewhere that does." Such statements lead to me to ask them: "Whose goals are we talking about—yours or the organization’s?"

That very same question was once asked of me more than 20 years ago when I was an early career professional. I echoed the same mantra of today’s early career professionals until a person mentoring me forced me to consider that my own goals were separate from my organization’s expectations. Had I not thought about that question, I would not have reached the goals I have thus far.

Organizations set their policies based on past history and future goals. All career professionals—no matter what level—must take the same approach. I once had an employer that did not support ASQ activities or certifications, but I knew that they were advertising for higher level positions requiring certifications. The company wanted a certified quality engineer (CQE), but would not provide time or funds for current employees to obtain the CQE.

I took it upon myself to find a CQE program I could do on my own time and retooled my budget to cover my own expenses. After I obtained the CQE, I was more marketable to my employer and future employers. My employer recognized my own endeavors and offered me one of the open positions. Years later, after that employer was sold and closed, my increased marketability paid off in obtaining the next job.

Some organizations are taking on the issues discussed in this study with a modified approach—they are looking at their distant future needs (pending retirements, growth in business and infrastructure changes) and meeting with today’s young people to talk about what they can do for the organization and what skills are needed.

For example, an organization in the Pittsburgh area that specializes in water and energy industries offers tours and summer programs for pre-college students. The intent of this program is to garner student interest and educate them about jobs that will be available and what training and skills are needed for work in these roles. This modified approach allows the employee and the employer to work together to meet the needs of each party. I used the modified approach throughout my career—determining what I needed to do to reach the next step in my current organization while also preparing for the future if I needed to make a move.

The Harvard Business Review study’s conclusion echoes the idea of using this modified approach: Offer promising candidates a more balanced menu of development opportunities, and they may stay with you. Show them now what the future holds, and what they need to do to get there. Professionals, it is then up to you to do the work to get there.


  1. Monika Hamori, Jie Cao and Burak Koyuncu, "Why Top Young Managers Are in a Nonstop Job Hunt," Harvard Business Review, July-August 2012, http://hbr.org/2012/07/why-top-young-managers-are-in-a-nonstop-job-hunt/ar/1.

Teresa Whitacre is a quality manager in projects in Pittsburgh and a principal in Marketech Systems. She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Ashford University in Clinton, IA, as well as ASQ certifications as a quality auditor, engineer, manager and Six Sigma Green Belt. Whitacre is a past chair for ASQ’s Pittsburgh section, instructor for the section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and regional director for ASQ Region 8. She is an ASQ fellow.

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