The Advantages of Career Ladders in Long-Term Care

Young Hispanic nurse using computer during hospital staff meeting
asiseeit/Getty Images

Recruiting and retaining staff in long-term care is hard. Career ladders can serve as a recruitment and/or retention tool to help.

A career ladder is a structured sequence of job positions through which a person progresses in an organization. While common in many industries, aging services has been slow to embrace this concept.

Traditionally, career ladders encourage, recognize, and reward capable employees. Successful performance and acquisition of additional skills through education or training prepare individuals for the next job level. Formal career ladder programs can be found in organizations large enough to have a hierarchy of related occupations plus enough growth and turnover to allow for movement up the ladders.

Moving up a career ladder requires more than simply accumulating time in an organization. Employees must demonstrate competence and the readiness to take on new responsibilities. In smaller organizations, career ladders may be informal and depend upon the ability of employees to identify potential opportunities and to obtain mentoring from experienced employees.

Highly visible career ladders open up entry-level jobs and provide an incentive for individuals to enter a field and develop their skills for upward mobility. This is something sorely need in aging services.

A career ladder can be a vertical progression but it does not need to be. Progressive organizations also map lateral and advanced positions that a person could naturally fit in based on their background.

The Benefits

Establishing career ladder positions can optimize efficiency, productivity, and organizational effectiveness. It can aid the following:

  • Employee Retention
    • Career ladders provide an incentive for employees to stay with an organization when they see opportunities to advance. Employers save on costly turnover, recruitment, and training expenses.
  • Worker Productivity
    • Opportunity for advancement motivates employees to produce and perform well on the job and to acquire new knowledge and skills.
  • Succession Planning
    • Career ladders enable organizations to plan for and develop the skills, knowledge, and abilities they need for the future.

The term ladder actually is probably an inaccurate reflection of the path one might take in their career progression. With corporate flattening, downsizing, rightsizing, and outsourcing the number of rungs on career ladders in many organizations have shrunk. So you can’t necessarily climb the ladder of success as they say. But that does not mean employees can be groomed to move up the organization.

Lateral career moves allow workers to transfer their skills to a different, but related occupation. That is why you are seeing many people enter nursing school, for example, often coming from traditional, bedrock American jobs in manufacturing and the like.

Lateral moves have become a way for employees to broaden existing skills, learn about other areas of the organization, develop new talents, demonstrate versatility, and prepare for future vertical moves.

Upward mobility is not the only motive career moves. A nurse aide who can no longer work in that occupation because of back injuries may move to a position as a medical records clerk or medical coder using knowledge of medical terminology as a transferable skill. So aging services providers need to account for both vertical and lateral paths for advancement.

Where to Start

Building career ladders or lattices starts with some foundational work.

  • Analyze the industry and occupations.
  • Your industry associations can be a great place to start.
  • Compile all the available information on industry positions.
  • Obtain standardized labor market information.
  • Start to analyze the relationships between positions.
  • Start to identify how occupations are arrayed, the relative pay for the occupations and the knowledge, skills, abilities, and training are required for the occupations

Low retention, high turnover, and vacancies pose significant challenges among frontline jobs in the long-term care field. These negative trends can affect the quality of care for clients and residents. There is increasing evidence of the link between a quality workforce and quality outcomes. ​An MA initiative shows great progress for the industry.

Quality care for patients and residents starts with an exceptional employee experience. When employees feel valued, see a path for advancement, and are empowered they will provide great care, not because they have to but because it is part of their calling to service.

Was this page helpful?