Defining Talent Pipeline
By Aleka Calsoyas published on Sep 30, 2022
min read
Summary: The terms “Talent Pipeline” and “Educator Pipeline” are used frequently but not always consistently in Human Capital work. However, having a clear and expansive definition of what we mean by “pipeline” can help those of us facing the challenges of recruitment, retention, and other people-focused initiatives to develop aligned strategies for this complex work.
Illustrated pipes

This is the first part of a three-part blog series.

The Metaphor of a “Pipeline”

The idea of a “talent pipeline” or “educator pipeline” is a metaphor that can help institutions conceptualize how to support individuals along their own career trajectories while also meeting the human resource needs of the institution. The metaphor of the pipeline isn’t perfect and can definitely be overdone, but it is still worth exploring more deeply.

Let’s imagine water flowing through pipes from various under- and above-ground sources into a treatment plant with various processing phases and then into pipes that carry the potable water into communities and then to individual households. As a metaphor for people moving into and through different roles in a district, this “pipeline” illustrates some intuitive principles:

  • Enough water needs to be coming into the treatment plant. If one source is drying up, you may need to increase the flow from others.

    • Are fewer candidates answering your job board postings? You may need to cultivate your student teachers more intentionally.

  • If you can’t predict how much water the community will need, it will be harder to manage the flow efficiently or know in time if you need additional sources.

    • An unexpected doubling of the number of retiring school leaders in one year can make vacancies hard to fill.

  • Holding stations for treated water that keep it fresh, and that can be tapped as needed, can help keep the supply line full and meet bumps in demand.

    • If you have been working with a cohort of teacher leaders with admin credentials to increase their experience and confidence, you can tap them for your pool of potential APs.

  • The slowdown of process in your treatment plant can affect the entire output of the plant.

    • If it takes several weeks to send out a formal offer letter to a new hire, because you don’t have a position control number, that person can’t be processed and onboarded and may even take another job.

  • Water can evaporate from an open reservoir or leak out of cracked pipes, never making it to its destination.

    • If you annually recruit 3 times as many teacher leaders to your Aspiring School Leaders’ program than you can place as APs, some may eventually take AP roles at another institution.

  • Standing water in a reservoir can stagnate without aeration.

    • Staff eager to take on more responsibilities, whose professional development needs are never met, may lose morale or go elsewhere.

  • Pumps may be needed to increase the flow when gravity is not enough.

    • If you have a large number of paraprofessionals who might make great teachers but don’t have the resources to get credentialed, a residency program may help them move through the system.

The metaphor is far from perfect, however. In HR, staff movements are not always linear (ladders) where staff move from one position “up” to another. Many organizations picture movements as a “lattice” where horizontal or diagonal “moves” capture more nuanced changes in responsibilities or applications of skills. Nevertheless, unlike “ladder” or “lattice,” “the term “pipeline” gestures towards the ideas of “sources,” “flow,” “bottlenecks,” “leaks,” “aeration,” “stagnation,” etc.

We could continue to enumerate examples of how this metaphor can and can’t be mapped to common sense HR practices, but the truth is that context matters, and though “generic” best practices can be very helpful, having a clear picture of what is and isn’t working in your particular pipeline is critical. Therefore, the metaphor can be helpful because it can provide a visual model.

In the second part of this three-part series, we will look more closely at why organizations should map their pipelines.

If you are interested in pipeline consultative services, email [email protected].

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