Understanding and Removing Barriers to Job Mobility

by Donna Burnett on May 3, 2022 in Company Culture


There’s a growing sense of ambiguity in how companies can help advance their employees’ careers. How do leaders or organizations assist in creating the right trajectory for people to embark on the profession of their dreams, whether that be as a lawyer, physician, educator, non-profit advocate, or any number of other professions? Further still, how can  job mobility, the ability to develop and grow one’s career, even be a possibility if individuals are never given the chance to begin with? Between diversity gaps, career disconnects, and a sheer lack of opportunity, many professionals are hitting significant roadblocks.

However, by understanding the big picture of these barriers, companies and leaders can more accurately create pathways for job mobility across the board.


Understanding the Barriers that Block Hiring Pipelines


Let’s start with a big picture overview. Did you know that 60% of the aggregate wage gap comes from only 4% of all occupations? That amounts to about 20 different jobs. Numbers can be a bit more alarming when examining the discrepancy with diversity. For example, there is approximately a $220 billion annual wage disparity for Black workers compared to White workers, due in large part to their under-representation in higher-paying professions, as well as a lower average pay in various occupations, particularly executive and leadership roles.


Specific Barrier Examples for Consideration


The path to become a lawyer is a narrow one. If the nation equally represented Black lawyers to the overall Black population, the country would have at least 110,000 more Black lawyers.

This thread of underrepresentation continues in the arena of teaching. The U.S. Department of Education shows that a measly 4% of recent certified teaching graduates are Black.

When it comes to medicine, many avenues in the profession are impacted by racial and gender barriers. White licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are more likely to transition upward into registered nurse (RN) positions, while Black and Hispanic LPNs are more likely to transition downward into home health and personal care – lower-paying jobs.

Much of this comes back to education and the opportunities individuals are (or aren’t) given from early on in life. In many parts of the U.S., the monetary support Black-concentrated public-school districts (populations at least 75% Black) receive is $1,800 less per student than White-concentrated districts. When you add that up nationwide, 7.7 million Black students receive $14 billion less annually. However, education is not the only barrier.

Consider roles in nonprofits or politica campaigns. While it would be ideal if nonprofits could simply raise wages for their employees, instead, they have to either lobby for state legislators to approve an increase in their budgets or persuade voters to agree to higher taxes. These complexities and delays lead many workers to leave nonprofits because they grow tired of waiting for change and need to provide for themselves and their families.

Those in politics also face monetary challenges. Without raising the entry-level salaries for congressional staff, only a select group of people, often with greater generational wealth, can sign on to entry-level positions in places like DC – those that can supplement their low salary with other monetary means to afford daily living expenses.

From education to government, these examples only begin to paint the picture of how the barriers for job mobility are vast and complex. However, leaders aren’t without options on how they can break these down.


How to Create Pathways That Break Down Barriers

As you might imagine, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges. But there are ideas and programs which leaders can implement that will support those organizations struggling to create job mobility for diverse members of the workforce.


Invest in Career Support

Companies can start helping workers thrive by providing a more holistic support system tailored to local contexts and needs. As employers, look to how you can support those who have little to no support. Find services that target low-income and disadvantaged populations, lending a hand in-classroom instruction, workforce training, job placement services, financial assistance, childcare, and educational degrees.


Improve Job Quality

A growing field of research provisionally reveals that supporting and investing in a positive job environment (which in turn increases workers’ mobility) promotes employee retention and performance. Turnover is expensive for organizations, costing approximately 16% to 20% of an employee’s annual salary for workers earning between $30,000 and $75,000. Creating a more inclusive and affirmative culture makes a significant difference on deferring those costs.


Create New Opportunities

The present job market has proved difficult for two other specific groups: those just entering the workforce and those in the last leg of their career journey. They are floundering to find their place in the workforce post-pandemic, more so than during the Great Recession (especially in the nonprofit sectors). Organizations should not overlook these groups but rather focus their recruiting practices to ensure efforts are inclusive of recent college graduates and workers over the age of 55.

For political sectors, it may start with a more robust and intentional volunteer program. As leaders build relationships with volunteers, they can hire these passionate and driven individuals in an official capacity, adding their unique experience and skillsets to your campaign’s payroll. Those who are invested in the volunteer space hold great future potential for the field – not just those who have a superb resume with 5+ years of experience.


Real-World Examples

These practices may sound ideal, possibly even compelling. But how do organizations begin to put any of this into practice? We asked ourselves the same question and found some worthwhile examples.

In collaboration with The Rockefeller Foundation and the Leadership Now Project, Brookings Workforce of the Future (WoF) developed metrics that companies can use to measure their own contributions to enhancing job quality for low-wage workers. While founded on several metrics that are already widely tracked, this technique translates data into action and narrowly focuses on the dual goals of job quality and worker mobility.

One of the most compelling examples comes from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and their outreach called Bridges. The program provides adult education classes contextualized for specific industries with one-on-one coaching to comprehensively address what adult learners need to successfully do four things:

  • One: Enroll in laddered vocational training
  • Two: Devote time and focus to their studies
  • Three: Find meaningful employment at a living wage
  • Four: Solidify personal and household finances to build assets, secure credit, and fully profit from future opportunities to build wealth

Nearly nine out of every ten Bridges participants (86%) completed the basic or career contextualized courses they took; further still, 80% of those who completed courses earned credentials in post-secondary education, and roughly 60% of the graduates found new employment or advanced in their career. Those aren’t just impressive stats but a testament to the impact an intentional program can have for the well-being of people.

Does more research need to be done to improve job mobility in our country? The answer is a resounding yes. And the more we understand the current barriers, the better we can provide tangible and fitting solutions (i.e., job programs and targeted training). Companies can make a lasting difference in creating career pathways by the intentional choices they make today.


Interested in talking more about this or how Contact 1 can help with your current hiring and retention? Take a look at our services and connect with our team today!


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