How To Create a Learning Pathway for Your Employees

Posted by Penn Foster on July 12, 2018

Finding employees with the right skills is a struggle for many businesses, but manufacturing and information technology are having the most trouble according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. They're facing a skills gap, resulting in millions of unfilled jobs across the country.

The solution seems obvious at first glance -- reform education to teach people the skills they'll actually need in the workforce. However, education reforms are just one part of the solution. They can't close the skills gap on their own.

Even if they could, employers don't have time to wait for changes to take effect. They need educated, qualified employees now. Rather than waiting years or decades, employers can take matters into their own hands by building learning pathways for adults working within their organizations.

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What is a learning pathway?

Just as an employee can chart a career pathway, bringing them from a junior employee through middle leadership roles to management or even the c-suite, they should also be able to see a clear path from their current level of knowledge to the education or certification necessary to qualify for those roles.

Take for example, an employee in a manufacturing plant. Call him Joe. Joe may start out as a parts packer and move up to a machine operator position. From there he could become a floor manager, a production supervisor, maybe someday even a vice president of manufacturing.

That's the career path his company has advertised to him. Yet, Joe needs more than experience to move up the ladder. The floor manager position requires in-depth knowledge of leadership practices and OSHA regulations. The production supervisor job requires an associate's degree. If Joe wants to qualify for these jobs, he'll need training, certification and education.

A learning pathway complements your employee development program by identifying which training and education the employee should pursue. Then it gives him solutions for accessing those opportunities.

Learning pathways should be tailored to each individual, but that doesn't mean you have to create a perfectly unique pathway for each employee. What it does mean is you should adjust pre-existing pathways to make them as efficient as possible. Some employees skip training that covers areas they already understand while others need additional coursework to fill gaps in their knowledge.

How to create a learning pathway

Employees are happier when they see room for advancement. In fact, the most common reason employees give for leaving a job is for career growth opportunities according to Gallup's State of the American Workforce survey. That same survey found that Millennials are more likely than previous generations to value a job that accelerates their professional and career development.

By establishing clear learning pathways, you're helping to retain valuable talent. At the same time, your business benefits by helping each employee use all their talents and skills in service to your organization.

For each position on your organizational chart, you should map out a learning pathway that helps the employee advance to a higher paying position with more responsibility.

Learning pathways are modeled on career pathways. The career pathway is really a series of stops.

Think of an entry-level position as your home in Pennsylvania. If you want to get to Hollywood (the c-suite), you'll pass through many states and make a lot of stops along the way.

To get there you'll need the right supplies -- gas for the car, snacks, road-trip music, and of course a map or GPS. Your learning pathway identifies these supplies -- skills, certifications or knowledge -- and tells your employee where to find them.

Write these down and make sure employees have easy access to them. Make them part of yearly performance reviews. Does the employee want to advance in the company? If so, are they working on the next steps of their pathway? If not, why not? How can you help?

Next, look for courses, organizations, or training partners that can provide employees with what they need to advance.

What to look for in a training partner or program


You'll need your employees to continue doing their current job while pursuing the next opportunity. So look for training and development opportunities that they can do at their own pace and on their schedule.


While learning is always valuable, your learning pathway should be focused on specific outcomes. Make sure that employees are learning exactly what they need to know and not getting distracted by side-topics. For example, a program in front line supervisory skills is quicker and more immediately applicable than an associate's degree in organizational leadership.


When students learn incrementally, small amounts of new information are added to existing information, expanding their overall pool of knowledge. Learning pathways should build on themselves, creating a stack of certifications, skills and knowledge that meets employees current needs while preparing them for the future.


Courses that can be accessed through a mobile-friendly online portal are particularly valuable, because employees can train wherever they are. Whether they're on a work computer, on their tablet after the kids go to bed, or on their phone while riding the bus to work.

In addition to the courses themselves, help and support should also be easily accessible.


Finances can present a serious barrier for even the most driven employees. Choose an education partner that offers affordable pricing for your employees. If possible, provide them with tuition assistance options.

Tuition assistance shows employees that your company is serious about supporting their advancement. It makes them more engaged, more loyal, and happier overall. At the same time, it ensures that you have a steady stream of qualified employees to fill open positions.

Working with a training partner

Penn Foster can help you design a customized learning pathway that meets the unique needs of your organization and it's employees. We offer flexible, accessible and affordable programs that focus on essential skills while building incremental knowledge. Contact us today to learn more.