For Dan Cornell, vice president and CIO of Altria Group, cultivating IT careers is key to retaining IT talent.
Through a combination of talent planning, employee investment, mentoring and clear growth opportunities, Altria is committed to helping employees understand their own potential and how they fit into the organization. Cornell explains.
Altria employees have the opportunity to develop their skills through training, gain work experience in other departments and use the company’s structured career planning process, which has helped the Richmond, Va.-based tobacco company earn the # 1 career development spot on the IDG Best Workplaces Survey for 2021.
Newbie IT staff often don’t have a clear plan for their future because it can be hard to know what you want to do with your career right out of college, Cornell says, so it’s important for newbies to IT not to feel classified in a specific track within the organization. Employees are able to travel around Altria to try out different roles and work on a variety of projects.
For example, an entry-level code developer is immediately thrown into a highly technical job, Cornell explains. But during their first five or six years in the company, they will be transferred to different projects to gain experience and help them understand what they like to work on. This approach also helps them develop new skills and learn new technologies that will benefit them down the line.
“In a lot of cases we’re trying to put them in a role that is ultimately going to make them sweat – it’s going to really challenge them,” says Cornell.
Sometimes employees find they like a different role or department and want to stay there, he adds, while others will want to move on. But after five or six years, it becomes easier to identify what resonates with employees and what excites them – they can then figure out how to “bring those two things together,” says Cornell.
The Cornell team also offers rotational and alternate assignments outside of IT, so employees can gain knowledge and experience in other parts of the organization. “We try to make sure that we move people around fairly regularly, maybe every two years, and that we give them a bunch of new experiences,” he says.
Career planning from the start
Altria also offers its employees an annual talent plan. Employees go through a review process that examines where they are in their careers, what they aspire to in the organization, and what they want their careers to look like over time. This helps staff stay focused on their career goals and assess whether they are on the right track. It also helps their managers determine what skills can be developed, what training can be offered or what experiences can be gained by being exposed to other departments or projects. Cornell describes it as a “thoughtful and purposeful” process that brings a sense of formality to career progression.
For example, someone interested in cybersecurity might also “enjoy interacting with an area of business,” Cornell explains, directing them to a business analyst career path that might resonate more strongly with them. During talent planning, this employee will receive assistance in determining how to move in the right direction and how to acquire the skills necessary to get there.
This type of career planning “goes all the way to the highest levels of the organization,” says Cornell. “Everyone’s going through it – the career planning process and the development plan. “
Altria also describes career paths, starting at the entry level to show what opportunities employees have for growth in the organization, Cornell says. This basic roadmap helps give employees a “holistic understanding of how you deliberately prepare for further progression in different roles,” he says.
Altria also recognizes that leadership is not a path everyone wants to take. For this reason, the company also offers those who are not interested in a leadership path a clear path and potential for career growth, Cornell explains. Employees can check in as they grow in the organization to decide whether they want to stay on the technical track or feel called to lead.
Msprain and training
Altria’s formal mentoring program matches employees with a mentor from their first day with the company. Mentors help employees settle into the business and provide a point of contact for new employees to ask questions and become familiar with their new role.
Over time, Altria focuses on building mentoring relationships where people are aligned with mentors or mentees who may have a different perspective and set of experiences. Mentors and mentees work together on assignments and typically meet once a month to check in.
Altria also spends approximately $ 2,500 to $ 3,000 per employee on training, with a strong emphasis on experiential training. These investments not only help employees develop their careers, but also help the organization stay on top of new and emerging skills. With technology changing so rapidly, it’s important for Altria to invest in continuous learning to ensure the organization stays on top of the latest technology, Cornell explains.
Altria also offers internal training platforms so that employees can take advantage of courses and programs to develop their skills and expertise. Employees can even create public playlists of training courses they’ve taken to help others in the organization. For example, a network engineer might generate a playlist of training courses that have helped them gain more skills for their role, and others in the organization who are in similar roles or are interested in taking on that role may follow to obtain the same training.
“I’m not a huge fan of just going to a class and coming back without using it. i think the best [training] is where you go to a training course and you come back and you build on it with a mission that helps you use the skills you’ve learned, ”says Cornell.