On the right (career) path?

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On the right (career) path?

Scott Williams walked out of the John Paul Jones Arena feeling optimistic. The boiler mechanic at UVA’s heat plant had just finished seeing the University’s expo for its “Career Paths” plan, a major component of the new human resources plan that will take effect in January.


Susan Carkeek, UVA’s HR officer, defends the new “Career Paths” plan. “The whole point of doing this is to recruit and keep our best employees,” says Carkeek.

“It will be better in the long run —more money,” says Williams. “The only thing I’m worried about is taking benefits away, things like days off and holidays.”

Previous coverage:

Staff question new HR plan
"Town hall" marks unveiling of University system

Staff concerned about trust, pay
Still waiting for glimpse at new HR system

From the ground up
UVA gets its official HR restructure-er

University officials point to the new HR plan’s compensation system of market- and merit-based pay as a benefit to UVA staff. Under the current state system, wages and raises are capped. Williams says that if he worked the same job in the private sector, he’d make around $50,000 or $60,000 a year.

How much does he make now? “Not even close to that,” he says.

But Williams’ concern about lost benefits speaks to some employees’ skepticism of a new HR plan that is still being developed and is short on specifics. The new HR plan comes out of the 2005 Management Agreement that gave UVA autonomy from the state’s human resources system. All UVA staff hired after July 2006 will be automatically switched to the new University HR system in January. Employees hired before then, however, have a choice: stay with the current state Classified system or jump over to the University’s new system.

The University’s plan won’t be finalized until October 1, when employees will receive a side-by-side comparison of both HR plans that the Management Agreement requires UVA to provide.

The Career Paths program is a major component of the new system, and one that UVA officials are heavily touting. Susan Carkeek, vice president and UVA’s chief human resources officer, says that Career Paths came partly from employees’ concerns about the lack of opportunity for advancement.

“People were staying, and people were advancing,” says Carkeek. “But I think it was in spite of the system, not because of the system.”

UVA rolled out details of the new programs last week and put them on display at the JPJ. Taskforces comprising nearly 200 employees and supervisors identified a whopping 73 career paths in 15 different career fields. Inside the Arena, large signs listed each career path, most of which include four stages within the same job. The stages lay out a metric for advancement—the job description for each stage and what skills, experience and certification employees need to advance.

“With the majority of the career paths that have been laid out,” says Carkeek, “it should give employees information they’ve never had before.”

Employees will receive pay increases with advancement, though specifics haven’t been set yet. Carkeek says UVA would probably set ranges of raises for pay increases within career paths.

UVA employees Christine Harrer and Linda Patchel, who work in the microbiology department, both left the expo liking what they saw of the Career Paths program.

“It gives you a diagram of what exactly you need to do,” says Harrer. Come January, Harrer will have to decide whether to switch to the new HR system. She’s unsure if she will and says she wants to see what her options are before she makes the jump. Employees who switch to the new University system cannot go back to the current state Classified system.

The Staff Union at UVA has been casting a skeptical eye at the University’s new HR program, and members questioned Carkeek about where the funding for market-based salaries will come from. Carkeek has said that UVA will use existing funds for the new system.

“The whole point of doing this is to recruit and keep our best employees,” says Carkeek. “So there is no incentive for us to not have the best salaries and benefits that we can possibly afford.”

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