Career Path Challenges for Specialists Within Service Organisations

Updated: April 28, 2010

So can this problem be resolved. The answer is a definite yes but it does require a change from the traditional one size fits all HR practice. Highly skilled & specialist resources are a scarce commodity within the marketplace so moving such an employee into a non-technical role when this is not their chosen path makes no sense. It is clear then that a Specialists Career Path needs to be put in place that recognises and remunerates employees in a different way from following the traditional management route. A Specialists Career Path needs to be set up to run alongside the management route so that employees are able to move between paths and have a clear understanding of what they need to do in order to achieve this.

The key principle with any career path is that it fits the requirements of the organisation and does not exist for its own sake.

As stated before the structure of the Specialist Career Path is dependent on the organisational requirements of each individual business but the basic principles apply. The term Specialists covers a broad range of people but an easy definition is that it is a group which has a very narrow focus and that form the core of your business propositions.

If we take a fairly standard example of how this could work in an IT department today this should provide some clarity of how potential structures operate.

Database Administrators are an excellent example. At the intake and training level employees would be expected to provide some first line support and be involved in maintenance tasks. As their skill level increases then the next move would be to provide second line support and some design work related to ongoing maintenance. The next step would be to provide third line support with a higher degree of design work. At this level the employee in question would be expected to be a Mentor to the intake and training level employees and be part of virtual teams dealing with capacity planning. The next level up would be considered as the ‘Guru' level and the employee in this role would be accountable for all aspects of the technical aspects of the Database Design and Operation. Alongside this structure would be the appropriate levels of people management expertise who would deal with all the day to day aspects of keeping a department working.

This example is for IT folks, but is equally valid for Accountants, Recruitment Specialists, HR Operations and Customer Service departments etc etc.

The Importance of Having Mentors

A potential problem is how to measure the skill sets of the employees in their individual areas. However, if the criteria are set correctly within the levels it will be more straightforward to have a view of employees' relative skills and capability. The most important aspect of this is to have an effective Mentoring culture in place so that careers can be developed and any skill gaps identified and addressed. This will provide consistent monitoring and once a role becomes available the technical eligibility of the employee for that role should not be in doubt. Consideration must also be given to the fact that Products & Services move on at some speed so direction and strategy needs to be reviewed at regular intervals and this will make any measurement fairly fluid. It is really important therefore that the employees who are in the top roles across all disciplines have the skills and capability to set and revise criteria in line with business objectives.

The Soft Side of Life

Soft skills also have a major part to play, as previously mentioned the ‘Guru' level employees need to have and an excellent mix of both technical and business skills. The ideal ratio again depends on the individual organisation but taking the previous example of a Database Admin team the following table shows an example of how this could be applied in real life:

Technical Skill Level
Business Skill Level
Senior DBA
1st Line Support

Give me some Training and Recognition

External recognition is also important for any skilled community and should be encouraged as a major part of employee development. It goes without saying that any training plan should meet a business requirement but support should be given where practical to enable employees to obtain new skills in line with their personal development plan. Training plans for specific areas should be set by the ‘Guru' of that discipline to ensure consistent and appropriate courses are undertaken.

However, there should be element of direction through personal development plans for determining the career path. Many businesses are accredited with organisations such as the Institute of Engineering and Technology and the British Computing Society and employees who wish to seek either Chartered Engineer or Chartered IT Professional status should be supported. Opposition to external recognition consists of the fear that skilled resource will leave the organisation. However, this should not be viewed as a bad thing. If an employee is unhappy at his level and is looking to move on then the time is right to call it a day, and part on amicable terms. Being accredited as something like a Chartered Engineer will certainly help in this instance.

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