Career ladder is a metaphor for job promotion. In business and human resources management, the ladder typically describes the progression from entry level positions to higher levels of pay, skill, responsibility, or authority. This metaphor is spatially oriented, and frequently used to denote upward mobility within a stratified promotion model. Because the ladder does not provide for lateral movement, it is assumed to be a singular track with the greatest benefits at the top.
Job training programs, funded by public sector workforce funds and private foundations, have made attempts to increase the number of career ladders in various sectors, including health care, finance, and hospitality. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and several other foundations funded a series of studies and pilot projects in the early 2000s to expand build a network of career ladders and mobility for workers through skills training and the use of workforce intermediaries, as described by Robert Giloth.
The California state Employment Development Department (EDD) also in the early 2000s funded a series of career ladder programs, spearheaded by then director Michael Bernick. The programs sought to improve mobility and income of low wage workforces in California. EDD worked with several industry associations in long-term care, hospitality, and even farm work. The career ladder programs had very mixed results.
Contrast to "bridge" 
In this usage, the spatial metaphor of "bridge" would describe lateral promotion or entry. A bridged system would more closely resemble a fraternal organizational style, where members of the family are directly offered highly ranked positions. Another example is celebrities being directly elected among the public to e.g. political positions.
- Robert Giloth (2003). Workforce Intermediaries: For The 21St Century. Temple University Press.
- Michael Bernick (2005). Job Training That Gets Results: Ten Principles of Effective Employment Programs. W.E. Upjohn Institute.
- Page 83: Celebrity Politicians Elections American style. By James Reichley. Contributor James Reichley. Published by Brookings Institution Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8157-7381-1, ISBN 978-0-8157-7381-8. 291 pages