Career Development in Action: Charting your course for success

Aug. 1, 2000

Career Development in Action

Charting your course for success

By Greg Napert

August 2000

Many organizations today require recurrent training for their maintenance personnel. This, for the most part, is a step in the right direction. Safety is improved, knowledge is improved, and the company and the individuals involved benefit from improved efficiencies.

But are your maintenance personnel getting the most from your training dollars? How about your company? And, are you developing your employees to the best of their abilities?

A new trend in the making entails getting the employees involved in directing their career, getting feedback as to where an employee's weaknesses are, and providing training that fits the employee's desires as well as strengthening weak areas. The process also allows employees to grow and prepare to move into other positions of responsibility.

The result is a win-win situation for the company and the employee.

"We have required for a long time that all of our personnel get a minimum of two weeks a year of training," says Jim West, manager of Technical Services - Phillip Morris Aviation Department. "And, I used to think that that in itself was a good deed. But without the feedback from the employee, we found ourselves just trying to satisfy the requirements and not taking into account what the best thing for that person was. We would send someone for recurrent training, regardless if that person needed it or not. The feedback loop from the employee was the missing ingredient. For example, we had people that were very proficient at something and we would still send them for training in that area, instead of training them in an area where they felt they had a weakness. Although the intent was there, we weren't getting the bang for the buck." According to West, the process is applied to all individuals in their organization. "It doesn't matter that you are perfectly happy being a mechanic and have no aspirations for management, we still want the mechanic to be the best that they can be, even if they want to stay right where they are."

Suggested Functional Competencies


Client/customer focus




Job knowledge

Legal, moral, and ethical conduct

Planning and organization

Problem solving / judgement



Interpersonal skills

For some, the chance of future growth in responsibilities and position is necessary to their sense of happiness and well-being. They need to know that they are not trapped within an organization or industry that seems unwilling to invest in their future. Toward that end, maintenance personnel should take responsibility for their careers, deciding for themselves how much room for growth they require in a position. If a challenging, growth-oriented position doesn't exist, an individual should work to change those circumstances. Individuals also can improve some of their soft skills on their own through attending formal schooling or company training courses.

The individual's needs and the organization's needs must coincide for both to benefit. But West emphasizes, "We don't set goals for our employees. We just provide the tools to help the employee determine his or her career path - the employee develops his or her own goals."

According to West, the system that Phillip Morris uses is a three-part process that leads to a yearly evaluation in which both the employee and the supervisor are extremely prepared. The first part is to develop a list of core functional competencies that pertain to your operation or department. These can vary widely, yet, a suggested list of competencies are listed in the sidebar on page 17. Once determined, the individuals should assess themselves against these items to determine developmental needs.

Please take this opportunity to think through and to identify your career aspirations by answering the questions below. (Attach additional pages as needed.)

Describe your career to date. (Describe the assignments, experiences, key achievements)

Describe the positions and/or career path you aspire towards. Consider long- as well as short-term. (Position or type of assignment)

From your viewpoint, what are the performance criteria and achievements that best qualify you for your desired positions or career path? (e.g. skills and capabilities you possess, achievements, experiences, on-the-job success stories)

Describe your development needs in order to prepare you for your desired career path.

If you could make changes to your current role to make it more rewarding, what would you change? (What can you do now to enhance your capabilities? How can this role provide greater challenge and fulfillment?)

What is your geographic mobility at the present time? Do you expect it to change in the next two to three years? (Are you willing to relocate to realize your career aspirations? Are there any limitations? Time constraints?)

Once this is done, the employee performs a career interview to determine if they are progressing on their intended career path and to establish a development plan. A sample of the assessment plan is as follows:

West explains that once this information is flushed out, the company provides a Career Development Priorities Worksheet (Figure 1) as a tool for the employee to complete his self-evaluation.

The employee then sits with his or her supervisor and determines the correct course of action.

This is revisited once a year to determine that the employee is on the correct path.

"We started it three years ago and had a hard time getting used to it, but after three years, we're much more proficient at the process," says West. "Some of the problems we had were that people were not used to evaluating themselves and had a fear of admitting that they weren't good at something. Also, the supervisors did not always know how to help - especially if their needs were outside of their area of expertise. For example, we had an employee who expressed the desire to run a department one day and one of the skills they needed was to be able to budget. Well, the supervisor actually ended up doing some homework and finding that they needed an Excel spreadsheet course in order to be able to use it as a budgeting tool. So there's a lot of learning everywhere and everyone benefits from it."

West admits that they have had to break down a few barriers to give access to many of the training programs and educational opportunities to everyone at its facility.

"Many courses or educational benefits were not available to non-management personnel in the past, but we have pushed to make these opportunities available to everyone. Why not draw from your own pool of employees for key positions? We're not saying that we have the best program and we would not want to shove it down anyone's throat, but we just want to share that this is a much more ideal process than random training or doing nothing at all. I happen to have come from a background where my learning was 'baptism by fire,' and believe me, it was not the ideal way to learn. In fact, many maintenance departments, by virtue of not doing any career planning or training, set their people up to fail. They move people into jobs and positions with no training for that position just because they are the next in line."

Regardless, of the tools that the company provides to the individual to help them succeed, West says it's important that you take your career progress into your own hands. "If you don't, you may find that you'll wake up one day at 50 years old and still be in the same situation as you were when you were 25."

Many in the industry question this approach to career advancement, fearing the company will become a training ground for the industry. West answers this concern by stating, "That's just something were going to have to live with. We find that there is more to gain by developing our employees than by not."

West adds, "If your supervisor or your company is from the Stone Age and doesn't have a program in place for career development, then you've got to make a decision - stay, or go find a company that cares about that stuff."