The benefits of having a corporate policy for career development are well documented: staff motivation increases, skills are updated and productivity rises.
Career development policies range from structured, such as training and databases of useful information, to more informal but equally valuable arrangements, such as 'buddying' or mentoring.
BP Digital and Communications Technology, which won Best Places to Work Awards in the utility and communications sector, has a structured approach to career development. IT staff at the oil giant have been given a five-year career plan and can consult a 'digital academy' to check for career opportunities.
At the digital academy, which BP launched last year, individual career aspirations are discussed between management from different areas of the business to help identify career paths and positions.
IT staff can choose to follow a technical career path as well as a managerial one, with the various roles graded and their salary bands published.
IT staff at BP Digital & Communications Technology are also expected to take up to 10 days' relevant training a year. Knowledge sharing and networking across the group is encouraged.
Darren Voisey, an applications developer and regular user of the academy, said, 'You sit down with your manager, who advises you on the best way to achieve what you want and who can put you in touch with who you need to help you.
'Because of the digital academy, where managers from across BP can meet to discuss what skills and people they need, if your own manager does not have the roles that you need for your career, they can see where there is another manager who does.'
In the future the academy will help match staff to available roles through a careers directory, which summarises each role's key requirements.
'You can see what IT career opportunities exist across the company,' said Voisey. 'Every job is broken into its competencies, and shows you what courses and development initiatives are available to fill any gaps you have before you go for those roles.'
With 4,500 courses and 6,000 books and manuals available online, there is no shortage of learning material to help fill gaps. IT projects are reviewed after completion to learn from successes and any problems faced.
'One of the really good things we do is project retrospectives, where everyone on a project gets together and says what went well and what didn't. It is all captured and used on the next project,' said Voisey.
'Then on a new project you get a best practice coach to recommend the best way of doing things. What is also very noticeable is that the project team is co-located, so if you have a query you can ask and learn very quickly. Every morning we have a five-minute meeting where everyone says what they did the previous day. It is really good because it means we are all aware of what is going on and the manager can be alerted to any issues.'
Career development at BP Digital and Communications Technology has a clear structure but staff have also been given the freedom to shape their own destinies.
'The good thing about BP is that a lot of your career is driven by yourself. You can make your own opportunities and the managers help us through our careers,' said Voisey.
'BP is keen on stretching people. If you are doing well in your role they are keen to develop you further, so your manager is always looking where to place you next. It is the best place I have worked.'
This was first published in April 2005