- The gap between what’s learned in the classroom and what happens in the conference room can be quite large – associate programs help bridge that gap.
- Associate programs are learning and development programs designed to help new talent build skills and gain exposure to different parts of the company.
- Businesses that have these programs reap the benefits of the work these employees produce while building a growing pipeline of talent that flows through the organization.
If you haven’t heard, the job market’s hot. A little more than a decade ago, job seekers were slogging through months-long job searches and settling for work that didn’t truly take advantage of their skills.
Today’s candidates face a different challenge – the challenge of choice. With so much opportunity out there, how do applicants decide which one is the best? It’s tempting to pick the highest salary or the biggest name and call it a day. But our research shows that these short-term rewards may not translate into long-term satisfaction. More employees are putting wellness, including long-term growth opportunities and alternative career paths, ahead of traditional work priorities.
That’s why many job seekers are choosing their next roles not based solely on salary or benefits or even interesting work, but on what the company is doing to make sure they develop their skills so that they can progress to the next level in their careers.
Many companies, including Atlassian, offer associate programs to hire and grow people across various disciplines. Associate programs are learning and development programs designed to help promising, new talent build skills and get exposure to different parts of the company, all while contributing directly to the business’s key initiatives.
Atlassian has associate programs in product management, IT, engineering, and marketing. These programs share some common elements – cohorts with peers in the same discipline to foster community, mentors for career and skill development, and ongoing engagement with leaders.
Associate programs are good for business
While these programs are great for early-career job seekers, they’re also good for business.
The COVID pandemic compelled many people to take stock of their professional lives. In Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid and Return to Work Survey, 65% of people said that the pandemic has made them rethink the place that work should have in their lives. A little more than half of the people surveyed said it has made them question the purpose of their day-to-day jobs.
LinkedIn Learning found that employees who feel like their skills are not being put to good use are 10 times more likely to look for a new job. And a recent Pew Research study found that lack of opportunities for advancement tied with low pay are among the top reasons that people quit their jobs in 2021.
Associate programs not only help groom the next generation of professionals but also provide growth paths to mid-career employees.
By pairing entry-level talent with seasoned employees to work on projects that directly contribute to the business’s success, newer employees get a chance to develop their skills. But it also gives people who have already mastered those skills a chance to grow, allowing companies to retain senior-level talent.
Growth opportunities for incoming and tenured employees
Associate programs create several different opportunities for incoming employees and senior-level individual contributors.
Mentors and project partners
Atlassian’s Associate Product Marketing Manager (APMM) program includes mentorship and project partners.
During the 18-month program, each APMM has three mentors to help them grow in their career and product marketing craft. These mentors are seasoned product marketing managers who are looking to move into team management. They help the APMM make new connections across the organization, share their perspectives on tricky problems an APMM might encounter, and generally help them hone the soft skills that lead to success as a senior-level product marketer. In the process, seasoned employees get a chance to develop mentorship and management skills.
Project partners work closely with the APMMs on a defined scope of work that contributes to a business outcome. Entry-level employees often don’t have much practice executing the more tactical tasks that are part of any project and need more guidance. Who better to help them than the senior-level project partners who have experience doing just that? Associates take on tactical tasks like creating project plans, performing the initial quality assurance checks on customer-facing materials, and gathering input from stakeholders. This gives more time to the people who have already mastered these tasks and allows them to focus on more strategic work, build their skills in new areas, and gain management experience, all while contributing to the business.
Internal guest presenters
Atlassian’s associate programs include guest presentations from more experienced employees on their areas of expertise. These sessions benefit both parties. Early-career employees get the inside scoop from tenured colleagues. And mid-career employees get to practice their presentation and communication skills.
For example, the APMM program includes guest speakers from teams in adjacent disciplines, including marketing analytics, program management, and search engine optimization (SEO). A product marketer needs to understand the customer, the business, and the market. In addition to role-specific knowledge, foundational skills like data literacy, creating project plans and managing deadlines, and understanding how their target audience searches for and finds information are key elements of success.
Likewise, Atlassian’s Associate Product Manager (APM) program runs a “Learn from the TEAM” series with monthly sessions for APMs. Topics include how to work better with their engineering counterparts, incorporating strategic thinking and design thinking into product management, and improving communication. These sessions give APMs an opportunity to learn skills outside of their on-the-job training as product managers.
Rotations with multiple teams
Some associate programs allow employees the opportunity to rotate through various departments, which helps them explore new areas and develop new skills without leaving the company.
For example, Atlassian’s APM program allows APMs to spend a year on two different teams. The APMs get to dig into different customer requirements and product roadmaps and immerse themselves in each team. In the process, the business benefits from stronger cross-functional relationships, improved collaboration, and better big-picture thinking.
Exposure to leaders
It’s great to create opportunities for incoming grads and mid-career professionals, but what about leaders? Are they willing and able to dedicate time and resources to associates? We tackle this in several ways at Atlassian.
Most organizations at Atlassian host monthly Town Halls to share information across teams, usually consisting of a series of presenters using a branded slide deck. Our IT team started hosting “new grad Town Hall takeovers” a few times per year, handing over the agenda, format, and presentations to the new-grad cohort. It’s been a huge success! In their quest to find speakers, new grads are able to meet leaders across the organization. The grads bring a fresh perspective on storytelling to the standard style. And they have visibility with the IT team’s most senior executives throughout the planning and presentation process. The Town Hall takeover offers the right stakes for a new grad to take on and a new challenge – a large audience and high-visibility project but shared exclusively with internal stakeholders.
All of our programs include fireside chats and “Ask Me Anything” sessions with leaders across the organization. And it’s not just confined to an executive in a single discipline or location. With our commitment to distributed-first work, associates can attend sessions with leaders around the world. Cohorts have in-person and virtual joint programming to help connect the dots across go-to-market, product, and technical disciplines.
What to look for when choosing your next job
With all these benefits, it’s easy to wonder why associate programs aren’t common practice for every company. Skeptics often ask, “What if we spend all this time training these people and they leave?”
A better question might be, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?” Businesses implementing associate programs reap the benefits of the work these employees produce while building a growing pipeline of talent that flows through the organization.
Companies with associate programs have already invested significant time and energy into them and are realizing the benefits. These investments should be a signal to job seekers that these companies value their intelligence, hard work, and dedication and are willing to foster their talent.
Candidates should also note what type of associate programs a company offers. Many tech companies put a huge focus on growing engineering talent and less on other business functions. Developing engineering talent is a must, but successful businesses also need future product managers, marketers, and analysts.
For many of these disciplines, the gap between what’s learned in the classroom and what happens in the conference room can be quite large. Associate programs for specific disciplines help bridge that gap.
So, when you’re looking for your next step – whether you’re a new grad or a seasoned individual contributor – add “robust associate program” to your list of prerequisites for your perfect role. Not only are associate programs a great indicator of how much a company values its employees, but it’s also an insurance policy against topping out in the role you just started and having nowhere to go. And with the opportunity to learn more as you go, it’s an investment in your career trajectory and your long-term earning potential.
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