What Is Career Pathways?

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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Career pathways is a process facilitated by academia, government, nonprofit private agencies, social services organizations, and more in the United States, to help workers transition from education into the job market. There are six broad areas of employment defined by career pathways that are used as career clusters to target workforce development strategy. These include Arts and Communication; Business, Management, Marketing, and Technology; Engineering/Manufacturing and Industrial Technology; Health Sciences; Human Services; and Natural Resources and Agriscience.

Two prominent agencies in career pathways social policy serve as advocates for a variety of education and jobs programs. The Workforce Strategy Center (WSC) is a nonprofit think tank that advises government officials and others on workforce and economic development. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is another nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income people, and especially families with children, at various government levels to eliminate poverty through strengthening education and skilled jobs availability.


The overall goal of career pathways is to help people get the training they need, as well as ongoing education where appropriate, so that they can be placed in high-demand jobs as expeditiously as possible. With its focus on practical transitions from education to the workforce, career pathways is centered around the quality of primary and secondary education, and that of community colleges, which are more directly targeted at occupational training than traditional four-year state university programs. Programs sponsored by the US Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) also support the diverse needs of career pathways with a list of Pathways Out of Poverty Grants funding education for the unemployed, high-school dropouts, and low-income and disadvantaged individuals. The ETA further targets groups such as returning US veterans, students looking for summer jobs, and the Hispanic labor force.

Workforce development strategy is a broad societal goal, and career pathways is a dynamic element of it that is meant to fit local conditions to offer low-skilled adults a seamless transition from targeted education into growing job market sectors that offer advancement out of poverty. It is, therefore, in effect, a reform effort for the national educational system in the US, with a series of interconnecting pathway programs to occupational credentials. Its attempt to accommodate the needs of diverse sections of the population, from immigrants to minorities and workers needing retraining, has required that career pathways incorporate funding by public and private foundations where available as well to make the process broad-based and truly scalable and sustainable at local levels.


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