Building a Successful Career Development Program: Three Key Considerations

By Carrie Tuning and Carolyn Kurowski

Studies show a direct link between an organization’s investment in its employees and its ability to optimize performance. When individuals are engaged though career development, they are more satisfied, productive, and customer-focused, and less likely to leave the organization—in good times or bad. Career development not only equips, but also inspires employees to perform.


Successfully delivering a career development program in a tough economy may not appear to be an easy prospect. Having the right resources is only half the battle. To be effective, employees need structure and guidance to maximize the tools available to them, and visible support from leadership to demonstrate that engaging in career development is supported by the organization.


In 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faced a challenge. With more than 320,000 employees across hundreds of different occupations and three unique administrations, the agency needed to economically deliver a career development program that would empower employees and position VA to meet its mission to best serve Veterans. At the time, VA offered a variety of resources, tools and programs to help employees make the most of their careers, but they were largely disconnected and oftentimes employees didn’t know where to find them, or exactly how or when to use them. VA required a creative solution to an urgent question: How can the organization guide employees toward the right resources at the right time to make the necessary connections and maximize the return on investment?


The VA Learning University (VALU), VA’s corporate university, was tapped to devise a solution. The result was MyCareer@VA, a web-based program that demystifies career development. By providing a repository of integrated career development resources, MyCareer@VA guides employees through the process of building a long-term career at VA.


In bringing MyCareer@VA to fruition, VALU learned three key lessons that any organization can apply to support and accomplish its own successful career development initiative.


Make it Personal


There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to career development. In order for a program to successfully engage employees, it must be flexible enough to address and support a wide range of career development goals (e.g. to earn a promotion, to change fields, to move from a full- to part-time schedule). For this reason, MyCareer@VA features interactive tools that personalize the career development process to each participant’s unique situation. These tools include:


The My Career Fit Tool: For participants seeking career direction, this tool guides users towards VA jobs that align with their interests and work environment preferences. The tool employs a detailed questionnaire to connect users with career options that “fit” their specific answers.


The My Career Mapping Tool: For participants looking to map out a career plan, this tool shows how one starting position can lead to a range of different career paths. The ability to chart a career course enables users to envision a fulfilling career with VA and learn what they must do in the short and long-term to pursue and achieve their career goals.


No matter what career development tools and resources your organization offers, the focus must remain on creating an experience that employees can tailor and shape to fit their individual personal and professional development needs.


Build a Network


So you’ve successfully created and launched a career development program – now what? Building a robust group of stakeholders and supporters will encourage your workforce to adopt the program. Garnering support from leadership is critical, but also engage individuals at every level of the organization to champion career development. With an organization as diverse and widespread as VA, we identified learning and training professionals at the facility level as a key networking group. Here are some ways you can engage a network of program champions:


  • Communicate regularly. Once you have engaged participants to advocate for your program, keep them informed. This will ensure that they remain engaged and know all the latest program updates and potential opportunities for participation.


  • Give them the tools. Empower your supporters to promote the program on your behalf. By furnishing them with talking points, collateral materials (posters, brochures) and – most importantly – a point of contact to answer any questions they may have, you ensure that your supporters feel valued and prepared with the right information. VALU, for example, provides a “Training Event in a Box” toolkit to help MyCareer@VA advocates host a training event for their facility.


  • Listen. Your early supporters are an extremely valuable source of feedback. Don’t miss an opportunity to gather their input and hear their suggestions for ways to improve the program.


Demonstrate Impact


In a tough economic climate, many organizations are contending with slim budgets. Showing ROI – through qualitative and quantitative data points – underscores the long-term value of your program to decision-makers.


Because MyCareer@VA is the first program of its kind within the federal government, we incorporated a number of evaluation methods to measure success from day one. These industry-leading models include: the Kirkpatrick Four Levels Evaluation Model, the Phillips Return on Investment Studies and Brinkerhoff’s Success Case. Each method offers a unique approach that, when combined, provides a comprehensive understanding of MyCareer@VA’s impacts on business imperatives.


While every organization should determine which evaluation methods are the most appropriate for their particular design and strategic goals, it’s helpful to apply multiple models simultaneously. This approach ultimately provides a more holistic understanding the program’s value that can better inform short and long-term strategic decisions.


Career development programs can have incredible long-term benefits for your employees and for your organization. Make sure that you’re taking the right steps to create a career development program that will have a lasting impact.



Learn more at the NCDA Career Development Conference in Boston - Presentation Series I, #114, on Monday, July 8, 2013 ~ 3:00 - 4:10 pm


Carrie TuningDr. Carrie Tuning, Ph.D, is an Education Program Specialist at VALU and the MyCareer@VA Project Manager. She aligns learning events and products to existing competencies; reviews client's organizational strategic plans for compliance with the VA Strategic Plan; ensures VALU reporting accuracy. Previously serving as the Associate Dean of Business at Strayer University and as a Legal Administrator in the U.S. Army, Dr. Tuning holds a Doctorate from George Mason University, a Masters from Howard University School of Divinity, a Masters of Science from Central Michigan University, and a Bachelor’s from University of Maryland University College.  She can be reached at carrie.tuning@va.gov


Carolyn KurowskiCarolyn Kurowski, MA, Senior Vice President of Federal Management Partners, Inc., has over 15 years of experience leading a diverse range of projects and providing analytical and consulting services in the area of human resource management. She currently works with VA’s Learning University (VALU) to design MyCareer@VA, a world-class online resource that offers current and potential employees a “one stop shop” for career planning and development. Ms. Kurowski provides technical guidance, leading the overall integration efforts that help drive this innovative project. With a focus on building cross-functional and cross-organizational teams, she works closely with her team and her clients to navigate information analysis, process engineering, IT integration and solution development challenges. Ms. Kurowski received her M.A. in Developmental Psychology from Clark University and B.A. from Notre Dame University. She can be reached at ckurowski@fmpconsulting.com

Printer-Friendly Version

1 Comment

Marshall McCants   on Tuesday 01/28/2014 at 02:19 PM

Outstanding mantra and approach to first, empowering human capital through on-hands management, education and through mentoring. Further, I like and appreciate the concept promoted herein which seeks to show the employee/student the net worth of not only their new education, but also the impact on the organization. This model should have a strategic impact within the organization, any future business endeavors they may embark on, and just as important, can be a patent catalyst to their family members to show a viable way ahead for them as well.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.