Editor’s note — This article is the third in a series concerning the job market in McPherson County and how it relates to national trends. It contains information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, researchers in the field and local professionals.

There’s more to life than entry-level.

However, ladder-climbing isn’t always a straight path. Fortune magazine editor Pattie Sellers recommended that employees think of it as a career jungle gym, rather than a career ladder, which is echoed by job coaches and employment organizations alike.

“Advancement can be linear, but can also be a career lattice,” explained Kasi Morales, executive director of the McPherson Industrial Development Company.

A career ladder can only move up or down, while a career jungle gym moves sideways, upside-down and eventually, to the top.

For employees in McPherson County, jungle gym advancement can mean moving up in a recovering economy.

Why look up?

A major reason why employees are pursuing advancement is to avoid stress. For many, reports Fortune magazine, employees hope to either advance or start an exit strategy, so the chance to move up is a prime opportunity.

According to the 2011 American Psychological Association survey, 36 percent of U.S. employees say they’re experiencing chronic work stress, and 32 percent say they plan to seek employment elsewhere within the year.

The survey respondents cited salary concerns, lack of opportunities for advancement, heavy workloads and long hours as sources of their stress.

Some stress is positive, according to the APA, because it releases adrenaline that can enhance a person’s performance. But chronic stress, persisting over an extended period of time, can cause anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. This stress puts employees at risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Jennifer Davidson, a career coach in Portland, Oregon, recommends getting a career accountability partner. Whether a friend or a hired coach, this person can be a sounding board to discuss career goals, networking strategies and more.

Start each session with five minutes of venting about whatever you want, without requiring feedback, to get the negativity out of the way. Then, use the rest of that set time to focus on the future in a positive way.

If a heavy workload is taking time away from building skills to advance, employees might consider dropping overwhelming aspects of the job. This conversation with the boss shouldn’t be a complaint session. Rather, Fortune magazine recommends that employees first discuss their long-term goals with their boss. The employer is more likely to have a big-picture view of careers available in the company and put workers where their skills best fit.

Aside from stress, workers will seek a higher position for better pay. Luckily, American wages have steadily risen in recent years, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

After the recession, wage growth limped behind the average growth of 3 or 4 percent a year. Then in 2016, wage growth reached 2.8 percent from 2 percent the year before.

Of course, wages tend to link with an employee’s education.

Get schooled

The major problem for many looking to get a leg up on the career ladder is that many managerial positions are linked to higher education.

Camille Snyder, recruiter for LSI Staffing, explained that the education needed really depends on the employee’s career goals.

“The importance of education versus experience is determinate on where an individual is within their career path,” Snyder said. “Higher-level positions such as management, technical, and executive typically require education, whereas entry level, skilled, and middle management positions often require experience over education.”

On the other hand, key employees can make up for a lack of higher education with an overwhelming knowledge of the company.

“Some people move from the production floor to the office in roles like purchasing, estimating, or technology work,” Morales said. “Usually, the best candidates for a company’s office roles have a background in that company’s production process.”

If it works out, employers will take care of the educational element so they can keep a quality employee on board.

“Once someone lands the job, there are many opportunities to further one’s skills and education as additional training opportunities are widely available,” Morales said. “Supplemental training through on-the-job programs and tuition reimbursement for continuing education are just a few options employers might offer employees who want to grow their skills and career with the company.”

Should I stay or should I go?

Does on-the-job education actually want an employee to stay?

According to Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist of Glassdoor, not necessarily.

His study addresses which benefits can draw employees to a new job or to stick with their current job, and which ones don’t matter much to workers. At the top of the list, health insurance, paid time off and pension plans are desirable benefits. These benefits most correlated with employee satisfaction, reports Chamberlain.

At the bottom, childcare, flexible hours and professional development opportunities have little importance to workers. While they might be quite valuable to some employees, the data suggests that most employees don’t take them into consideration.

Aside from offered benefits, employers should also consider the values and motives of their employees. Patrick Masar, director of career services at McPherson College, explained that younger workers seek fulfilling jobs, which would benefit the employer in the long run.

"If they are fulfilled, they are more likely to stay at a company and be looking for more experiences to stretch themselves personally and professionally. They will seek to take initiative and other responsibilities beyond their job description," Masar said. "If the employer is smart, they will also value the employees of their company and seek to move them into slots — promotion or transfer to other job responsibilities — that utilize their skill sets and keeps them motivated."

Get started

When pursuing new opportunities, employees should consider career goals.

According to Monster.com, an employment website, looking for internal opportunities makes sense for workers who feel entangled in departmental politics, have a good track record, like their company and feel that their assignments don’t match their skills and interests.

To prepare for an internal opportunity, Monster.com recommends asking around about what happens in different departments, make contact with people outside the immediate work group, strengthen current performance to highlight abilities and look for any internal training opportunities that could relate to a new job.

Opportunities to advance and try something new might be in the cubicle across the hall.

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.