When Kelli Wernlund joined Ernst & Young LLP in 2010, she was assigned a peer of a similar experience level to guide her through adjusting to the firm and a counselor with many years of experience to help her map out her career development.
Wernlund is a senior associate in the assurance department of the global professional services firm’s Milwaukee office. Since she focuses on retail and consumer products, Wernlund has received specialized technical training in the field. She also recently participated in the company’s Midwest learning week in Chicago, during which she had the opportunity to choose a couple of soft skills classes to further her development in working with others.
“Whether it’s client interactions or team interactions, it was becoming aware of how other people are acting in the workplace and how we can react to our external situations,” Wernlund said. “In order to build a team that works really well together and is cohesive, you need to pull the best out of everybody, and in order to do that, you need to learn how different people work.”
These varied training opportunities are part of EY’s multi-faceted employee development program, which consists of learning, experiences and coaching.
“When we think of training, it’s really more the mindset of what we do,” said David Gay, a partner in EY’s Milwaukee office. “We’re in the people development business. Our focus is on providing all of our professionals opportunities in each of those three areas, really across the continuum of their work life.”
EY has about 175,000 employees firmwide, 200 of whom are in the Milwaukee office.
In its learning track, EY offers hundreds of courses, both in-person and online, that employees can sign up for through an intranet site. First and second year associates are encouraged to travel to training programs held for Midwestern branches in Chicago, so they can meet their peers in the area as well as the leaders who teach the classes.
For employees early in their careers, the emphasis is on base technical training in their service lines (assurance, advisory, tax or transactions) to build basic skills. If there’s progress in technical skills, the emphasis shifts more to soft skills and leadership development, Gay said.
The experiences track involves working with employees to set up a work rotation, so they are exposed to different teams and assignments, and can develop their passions.
“What happens within those engagements, there’s a real focus in those various experiences on setting stretch assignments,” he said. “Once you figure out what you’re doing, we’re going to give you something different.”
Assisting with recruitment, taking overseas assignments and being a counselor are among the non-client experiences offered.
“We and our professionals recognize that many of them have a desire to progress, either within EY or perhaps somewhere else,” Gay said. “It’s that recognition that a career is cumulative, so the more experiences they’re able to get sooner, the more they’re able to develop faster.”
And in the coaching track, peer advisors are those with 12 to 24 months of experience. They are assigned to a new employee to help with day-to-day questions like where to park and what to wear to a client meeting.
Counselors are those with four or more years of experience, who coach employees on career development and track their progress.
“Everybody has a counselor and that relationship with a counselee, it’s a very personal relationship and it’s almost your advocate in the firm,” Wernlund said.
Wernlund’s counselor is helping her position herself for a promotion to manager. They’ve laid out which goals she should work toward and which opportunities she should take advantage of to better her chances.
Early in his career, Gay said, his counselor sat him down at a social event where he was feeling out of place and said he was impressed by Gay’s job performance, and that it was alright to be himself in social settings.
Counselors provide that kind of pep talk to inspire and support their counselees.
“That was really a launching pad to give me confidence,” Gay said. “That’s incredibly important, not just to the counselee that’s being coached, but also to the counselor learning to coach.”
EY also evaluates its counselors through a periodic email to employees, asking about their recent coaching experiences. The survey sends the message that counseling and mentorship is important and also tracks whether leaders need to adjust their methods.
The company’s approach to employee development is a part of its mission to build a better working world, but it’s also a retention tool, Gay said.
“Because of the type of individuals that are attracted to us and that we’re looking to recruit, if we don’t invest in their development, they will likely go seek it somewhere else,” he said.