Pathways are not new to education.

For over a century, employers and educators have worked to develop courses of study to facilitate students’ matriculation into the workforce. Ultimately, that’s the function of a pathway. Career Pathways help to design curriculum and course schedules around student needs.

The working definition I use with faculty and administration formalizes this concept.

Career Pathways are coherent, articulated sequences of rigorous academic and career courses, commencing with the ninth grade (or lower), and leading to an associate’s degree, an industry-recognized certificate or licensure, and/or a baccalaureate degree and beyond.

In simpler terms, Pathways are connected educational building blocks, with integrated work experiences and support services, which enable students (youth and adults) to combine work and learning, and to advance over time to better jobs and higher levels of education.

So what does a Career Pathway look like?

As you talk with educators across the country about Career Pathways, you will discover that, like snowflakes, no two programs look exactly the same.  Some programs focus primarily on developing career areas at the high school level, structuring career-technical courses and sequences to meet local industry needs and integrating academic skills in contextualized activities.

Other programs may partner with local workforce development organizations to support retraining due to layoffs or career changes. You will see programs in adult basic skills settings, designing training for entry-level occupations and building language and workplace culture skills with immigrants and low-skilled workers.

In many states, community and technical colleges have taken the central role of connecting high school CTE programs to certificates of completion and degrees and then built articulation agreements with 4-year institutions, internships with local industry, and training programs with workforce development centers to create a seamless pathway for lifelong learning.

Regardless of the setting, program model, or the population, successful Career Pathways programs have several elements in common.

Career Pathways share common characteristics.

In programs designed using Career Pathways strategies, many of the following components are part of the structure and implementation to help ensure student success. I’ll talk more about some of these in future blog posts.

  • Modularized Curriculum. Grouping skill sets and coursework into smaller segments that are aligned with industry certifications and/or occupational skill requirements helps move students from school to work quickly and easily.
  • Credentials. Using industry-recognized credentials (e.g., certifications, certificates, degrees) provides easy articulation across programs and institutions, and provides employers with information about an individual’s skills related to a specific job. Credentials can also show student readiness for advanced training.
  • Roadmaps. Graphically depicting the courses or curriculum blocks on a roadmap makes it simple to understand and easy to explain to students. Core elements to consider including are occupations, wages, industry certifications, academic credentials, and local labor market information.
  • Bridge Programs. Developing programs to prepare bridge individuals in Adult Basic Skills and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programs to enter credit-based career-technical courses helps connect them to a lifelong career path.
  • Wrap-around Services. These student support services and strategies keep individuals engaged in the Pathway and can include tutoring, child care, case management, and job search support.
  • Internships, Cooperative Work Experience, and Job Shadowing. Opportunities to provide on-site structured learning experiences with local industry serve students in many ways: they see what the workplace is really like, discover the wide array of jobs and career paths within the companies, learn skills on the job and apply classroom theory to work situations and network with future employers.

All these components help support students, connect them with the skills needed in the workplace, and allow them to move between work and learning throughout their lives. However . . .

The most critical strategy for successful Career Pathways is Alignment.

Program and curricular alignment are outcomes of partnerships and collaboration among a network of educators, employers, and workforce and economic development entities. No one organization has the complete picture, yet all should be focused on the same goal – supporting individuals as they move from training to work and back again, progressing along a clear, connected career path. Some have likened it to getting on and off a commuter train at various stops along the way.

Run it on their schedules, accommodate lots of on and off traffic, facilitate good connections to long-term destinations.”  David Prince, WA State Board for Community & Technical Colleges

Each learning experience should be directly connected to the next, with no dead ends (e.g., courses that don’t apply towards a degree) or wasted time (e.g., not getting credit for work or life experiences).

I’ll talk more about this important component in my next post.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts about Career Pathways.

What’s working and what’s not working for you?  Tell me about your program – I’d like to share your successes with others. What challenges are you facing?  Have you read any good studies or articles that you want to share?  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.