Career Pathways, Laddering and Lattices: Getting from Point A to Point B

image of Health Care Month logo with cartoon superheroes in health care uniforms

Health care is the largest and most unique career sector in Minnesota. As you begin your career you can move up or within the field in many ways. You can start in housekeeping or in food preparation, and easily transition into a nursing assistant, a trained medical aid, or pivot into human resources or management. The potential for growth in this field is extraordinarily strong.

But you might be asking yourself, how do I know which way to go? What are my options? How do I start?

It’s possible you’ve heard the terms career pathways, career ladders and career lattices.  Career pathways is a strategy to assist anyone in taking an organized approach in career planning in a certain industry. Career pathways encompass both career ladders and career lattices. People can climb career ladders by completing their post-secondary education, participating in a training program, and engaging in other training opportunities that lead to new credentials and new employment opportunities in a given field. For example, if you are a nursing assistant and you gain certifications to become a trained medication aide, that would allow you to move up in pay and responsibility, which has you climbing the career ladder.

Sometimes career growth isn’t a straight line from where you are to where you will end your career. There are also career lattices, which is a pathway that allows for more horizontal or diagonal movement. Examples of this could be a cross department move, or performing similar duties in a different kind of facility. You could be a certified nursing assistant for an assisted living facility and switch to a group home, or you could move up to working in human resources at the same facility you were previously a nursing assistant.

Duluth Workforce Development recently created a visual graphic (see graphic below) which does a great job illustrating health care career pathways and especially career ladders. The green stripe on the left shows the number of years typically required to reach the education and experience for that role. The graphic clearly shows how a person can climb from one level to the next with additional education and experience.

health care career laddering graphic


One concept associated with career pathways is the idea of on ramps and off ramps. Unlike a traditional college education, you aren’t doing all your training at one time. You begin your career, develop an idea of where you want your career to go, complete the necessary certification or training to climb the ladder or cross the lattice, and then work in your new role. Then, you can either stay in your new role, or maybe you identify the next opportunity in your field and pursue the educational credentials necessary to land that new position.

The same career ladders and lattices that are valuable to employees are also valued by employers. Entry-level positions in health care can be hard to fill and have a high turnover rate. When an employer can articulate all the career paths an employee has available to them in an organization, it will help both with recruitment of job seekers and retention of existing staff. Investing in employees and discussing their professional goals builds loyalty and trust. Being able to share information about career ladders helps show employees the opportunities around and ahead of them in an organization as well as the education and time needed to reach these goals. Offering internal training opportunities for staff to help reach their career goals shows that organizations value their employees.  Communicating about career lattices shows employees how they can move within an organization to find a role – and career pathway - that better meets their needs.

Many employers are aware of the value workers with transferable skills from other fields can bring to their organization and are recruiting career seekers from other industries that hone the same essential core skills.  Aftenro in Duluth strongly believes in looking at applicants’ transferable skills when they are hiring for positions. They also continually meet with their staff and encourage them to grow in their current position or expand into other areas of interest.

Photo of Rangineh, who came to health care from another field, and is climbing the career ladder
Rangineh is climbing the career ladder at Aftenro in Duluth

Shayla Drake, Human Resources Coordinator at Aftenro shared one of their employee’s recent success stories. Rangineh moved from Iran to be closer to her daughter in the Duluth area. Rangineh had earned a degree in mathematics and physics in Iran but had no work experience in the U.S. when she applied at Aftenro. She started in June 2018 in the housekeeping department. By August she was cross-training as a dietary aide and working in both roles. Rangineh then decided she wanted to move into the nursing department and in October 2019 she registered for the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program. By December 2019 Rangineh had completed her training and transitioned over to the nursing department as a CNA. Rangineh is now registered for further nursing education through a local community college and will participate in Aftenro’s in-house tuition reimbursement program and scholarship programs. Rangineh hopes one day she will be a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Registered Nurse (RN) at Aftenro, where she loves working. “Aftenro is a good place to work in Duluth” said Rangineh with a smile. “I love working here”.

If career seekers are open to learning more about health care careers, and employers are willing to look at transferable skills that applicants have, as well as building career pathways for new and existing employees, including ladders and lattices within their organization, it can be a win-win for everyone involved.