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Develop a Career Ladder/Lattice

Audience: Workforce developers, economic developers, and education and training program planners may find this guide useful.

Career ladders and lattices help people visualize the potential job pathways available as they progress through a career by graphically depicting the occupations and developmental experiences within an industry. When developed by an inclusive team of industry experts, ladders/lattices are excellent resources for workforce development.

View examples of Career Ladders/Lattices

The Competency Model Clearinghouse offers the Career Ladder/Lattice Tool to assist you in developing career paths for an industry of your choice. The tool is designed to be used in conjunction with the Build a Competency Model Tool, also available on the Competency Model Clearinghouse.

Career ladders and lattices consist of a group of related jobs that make up a career. They often include a pictorial representation of job progression in a career (see example below), as well as detailed descriptions of the jobs and the experiences that facilitate movement between jobs. Career ladder/lattices are not necessarily organization-specific; they frequently span multiple organizations because movement within one organization may not be possible.

Career ladders display only vertical movement between jobs. In contrast, career lattices contain both vertical and lateral movement, and may reflect more closely the career paths of today's work environment. For example, the long-term healthcare industry career lattice below illustrates both vertical and lateral movement between jobs. The arrows leading from Home Health Aide to Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) to Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) to Registered Nurse (RN) portray vertical movement. The arrows between Home Health Aide, Personal and Home Care Aide, and Direct Support Professional portray lateral movement.

Career ladders/lattices may be used in a variety of ways. For example, they may be used to:

  • attract individuals to an industry by showing potential career progression beyond entry points,
  • focus workforce development efforts,
  • show workers how different jobs interconnect within careers in an industry, and
  • inform workers about the training, education, and developmental experiences that would enable them to accomplish their career objectives.

Example Career Lattice for the Long-term Healthcare Industry

Why Should I Collaborate?

Collaboration with industry experts when creating career ladders/lattices results in more accurate representation of movement between jobs in an industry. It allows those who know about the industry to provide input and encourages the validation of career ladders/lattices to ensure that:

  • the appropriate jobs are present on the career ladder/lattice,
  • job progression within the career is accurate, and
  • job description information is current.

At a minimum, you should have industry experts review and edit the career ladders/lattices prior to distributing or publishing them.

With Whom Do I Collaborate?

When indentifying individuals to participate on a career ladder/lattice development team, it will be most helpful to partner with those who:

  • understand the issues facing an industry,
  • have significant background and expertise in an industry,
  • are knowledgeable about jobs and occupations within an industry, or
  • are knowledgeable about the education and training needed for the jobs and occupations.

There are many potential partners available. Some possibilities include:

  • businesses,
  • job incumbents,
  • labor-management relations teams or committees,
  • state and regional industry groups or associations,
  • training providers (public and private),
  • employee representatives (e.g., human resource representatives),
  • educational institutions (e.g., community colleges, universities), and
  • professional and trade associations.

How do I Collaborate?

You should work closely with your team members either individually or in a group setting to gather the information you need. Encourage your career ladder/lattice development team to discuss important industry issues, critical careers within the industry, and how jobs within an industry relate to one another. When you meet with your development team, some topics for discussion include:

  • big picture industry issues (e.g., economic, social, and political challenges, workforce development issues within an industry),
  • jobs to include in the career ladder/lattice,
  • important characteristics of each job in a career ladder/lattice,
  • relationships between jobs, and
  • movement between jobs in the career ladder/lattice.

Results of Collaboration

Successful collaboration results in a career ladder/lattice that is an accurate and comprehensive representation of the potential pathways available as employees move through a career. Ladders/lattices are excellent resources for employees and human resource professionals when their creation is guided and informed by industry experts.

Explore the many ways career ladders/lattices are being used in the Models in Action

You must first use the Build a Competency Model Tool to identify the foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities for all workers. You can either customize an existing model, or build a new model. Then, the Build a Career Ladder/Lattice Tool will help you build career ladders/lattices that outlines potential pathways as individuals progress through a career.

Before you start developing your ladder/lattice, it is suggested that you click on the Collaborative Process Tab to read some helpful tips about collaborating with others to build these resources. You will also need some information about the jobs you wish to include and the critical development experiences needed for a worker to progress along the pathway.

The tool will guide you through four steps to create the career ladder/lattice.

Step 1: Enter Job Information – This step allows you to identify your ladder/lattice's jobs and their important characteristics.

Step 2: Place and Link Jobs - This step allows you to create a pathway by placing and linking your jobs on a customizable grid.

Step 3: Add Critical Developmental Experiences - This step allows you to describe the key differences between jobs in this career.

Step 4: Finalize your Career Ladder/Lattice - This step allows you to save and download your work, so you can share it with others for review and validation.

Step-by-step instructions are provided throughout the tool.

Use the Build a Career Ladder/Lattice Tool to develop a competency model that identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform successfully in your industry

Do you have advice on using competency models for Developing Career Ladders/Lattices that you would like to share? If so, e-mail

For assistance applying your model in some common situations, select another guide.