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PhD, Union Institute / Doctor of Social Science, University of Leicester

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when careers were, for the most part, based on “lifetime employment.” You went to school, got on with a good company or organization, and worked your way up until you retired. But not anymore! These days, it’s expected that people will change employers frequently as they advance in their careers. Even in the Federal service, employees move from one agency to another much more frequently than in times past. (For that matter, people even move back and forth between Federal service and the private sector.) When lifetime employment was the norm, employers and organizations had you start at the bottom and they prepared you for increasing responsibilities as you went. But just as you now have to take greater control of your career choices, you also need to manage your development to a much greater extent. But how?

First, let’s settle on a couple of definitions. “Development” is vertical. It involves you going from earlier to later stages in your career, and often involves promotions, greater pay, and increased responsibilities. Compare this to “Growth,” which is horizontal. Growth is about getting prepared and capable to do your current job at your present level. Growth is about today, and Development is about the future.

When considering your own career, you also look at both today and into the future. You have to have a certain set of knowledge, skills and abilities to perform your current duties, but you also need to get prepared for the future. Recalling the days of lifetime employment, employers tended to take care of both Growth and Development. They trained you for your current responsibilities and also groomed employees for future roles as experienced workers, supervisors, managers, and executives. But as we said, those days are gone. You have to manage your career, and that drives what Growth and Development activities you and/or your organization take on.

In today’s work environment, employers still want to get you ready to perform your current job duties, so they’re usually interested in providing the training and preparation you need to get the job done. But your Development—your preparation for the future—is often left to you. You have to make decisions about getting advanced training, or earning a college degree (or another one!). In many fields, certifications are recognized and available; having one can help you advance your career. Completing a certificate program or college degree, or earning a certification in your field can not only give you the learning and development you need as you move along in your career, they can also give you recognized credentials to make you more competitive for that next job—and the ones after that.

As you take greater control of your career, take greater charge of your Development, too. After all, the future isn’t some distant point out there; it’ll be here before you know it.