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Career Pathways: Key Elements and Essential Components

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Employers continue to have difficulty finding the skilled workers needed for in-demand jobs, yet far too many Americans do not possess the skills or credentials required for such jobs.

To address this and other labor force challenges, The U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services collaborated to identify a groundbreaking framework for developing and implementing Career Pathways systems. Their framework includes 6 key elements of development and implementation, as well as essential components necessary to guide their development.

This framework is useful to those implementing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Its aim is to establish comprehensive education and workforce development systems that help students, job seekers, and workers attain the competencies and credentials needed for high demand careers; and that provide employers with the skilled workers needed in high demand industries and occupations.

6 Key Elements of Career Pathways

The 6 key elements of Career Pathways identified by the joint departments are actions states and local areas can take to develop and implement Career Pathways systems:

  1. Build Cross-System Partnerships
  2. Engage Employers/Identify Key Industry Sectors
  3. Design Education and Training Programs that Meet the Needs of Participants
  4. Identify Funding for Sustainability and Scale
  5. Align Policies and Programs
  6. Align Cross-System Data and Performance Measurement

Learn more about the 6 key elements of Career Pathways.

Essential Components of Career Pathways Systems

The Departments also identified essential components of Career Pathways Systems to provide guidance on their development. These components are:

  • Aligning systems: secondary, postsecondary, and workforce development
  • Rigorous, sequential, connected, and efficient coursework that connects basic education and skills training and integrates education and training
  • Multiple entry and exit points
  • Comprehensive support services, such as career counseling, childcare, and transportation
  • Financial supports or flexibility to accommodate the demands of the labor market in order to allow individuals to meet their ongoing financial needs and obligations
  • Active engagement of business in targeted industry sectors that aligns with the skill needs of industries important to the local, regional, and/or state economies
  • Appropriate curriculum and instructional strategies that make work a central context for learning and work readiness skills
  • Credit for prior learning and adopting other strategies that accelerate the educational and career advancement of the participant
  • Organized services to meet the particular needs of adults, including accommodating work schedules with flexible and non-semester-based scheduling, alternative class times and locations, and the innovative use of technology
  • A focus on secondary and postsecondary industry recognized credentials, sector-specific employment, and advancement over time in education and employment within that sector
  • A collaborative partnership among workforce, education, human service agencies, business, and other community stakeholders to manage the system

Learn more about the essential elements of Career Pathways Systems.

Lessons Learned and Snapshots of Programs

Today’s Career Pathways initiatives are built upon lessons learned from workforce-related education and training programs carried out over the past 30-plus years. To get snapshots of career-related education and training programs and understand the lessons learned from them, read the U.S. Department of Education’s  “The Evolution and Potential of Career Pathways”.

Career Pathways In Action

Visit these sites to see examples of active Career Pathways systems:

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (2015, April). The Evolution and Potential of Career Pathways. Washington, D.C.: Author.

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