Supporting early career professionals critical in building national workforce


  • The pipeline from university to the workplace is a key opportunity for organisations, educational institutions, public-private partnerships and other stakeholders to invest in

The same way we go through various developmental stages from childhood to adulthood, and have different needs in every stage, careers also undergo key developmental stages, and different career stages come with different challenges and support needs. I have particular interest in the early career stage because I have been through it, experienced its ups and downs, and have studied it in my personal and professional research. I have come to understand that majority of graduates leave universities and enter the workplace with little or no information about the potential pathways their careers may take. Even worse, they work for years feeling lost because of lacking much needed support in developing and planning their careers. In this article I want to shed some light on the key challenges facing people in their early career stages, the essential support in this stage, hoping organisations and other stakeholders can chip in to support.


Career stages can be identified by number of years of work experience, age, or a combination of both. The early career stage generally contains people with five years of work experience or less, or those aged thirty years or less. A hallmark challenge of the early career stage is often uncertainty and lack of clarity as people leave university and enter new organisational environments. This stage is also marked by high job mobility, the notorious jumping from one job or occupation to another – looking for something many don’t even know what! But all this is understandable because early career is a formative stage where people seek to develop competencies and try to figure out where they will commit most of their lives. Due to their young age and hunger for building competencies and be accepted in their workplace, a healthy work-life balance may also be unachievable, even a low priority for early career professionals, which can lead to burnout, detrimental to one’s future career success.

Also, University training often does not equip graduates with organisational and soft skills such as time management, prioritizing, and multitasking. In addition, they are often faced with the dilemma of whether to narrow down their focus and develop niche expertise or becoming generalists who know something about many things. Due to their junior level in tall organizational hierarchies, many find it difficult saying no. As a result, they fail to balance multiple duties and responsibilities, potentially sabotaging future career success.

Support needs

Early career professionals can benefit significantly from support from their employing organisations. Frequent feedback from supervisors and managers is among the key support factors for early career professionals. This is because they are in the process of developing confidence in their performance potential, and being left in the dark about how they are doing does not help. In addition to feedback, they need guidance and mentorship in making sound decisions for advanced training and for focused career development. Indeed, supervisory mentorship that offers social support such as creating an air of friendliness and openness is an important aspect of helping early career professionals thrive in organisations and beyond. This is particularly helpful because in this trial stage, they are bound to make mistakes, many mistakes for that matter. As such, when in a climate where they can learn through experience and admit honest mistakes without fear of being penalized, they are on the path to unleashing their potential for the benefit of both the organisation, themselves, and the country.

Ways forward

Thousands of graduates enter the job market every year and concerns have been raised and pointed to higher education institutions for producing half-baked graduates. However, if the goal is one, to build a competent national workforce, organisations must take the baton from educational institutions. This means that systematic efforts are needed. As such, ‘inductions’ are not enough. New organisational entrants can benefit from more holistic capacity building in planning and developing their careers. This can be done through establishing or connecting early career professionals to mentor networks, and even nurturing peer-mentoring networks. Engaging in other developmental activities such as workshops, trainings and self-development efforts can be encouraged.

In sum, the pipeline from university to the workplace is a key opportunity for organisations, educational institutions, public-private partnerships and other stakeholders to invest in, in order to create a robust, confident and competence national workforce that can compete and thrive in a global workforce.