Connecting Education and Work

April 21, 2014

States are seeking the best ways to encourage young adults and workers to earn postsecondary credentials that help them advance economically while also meeting employers’ critical skill needs. These efforts focus on creating more flexible pathways through basic skills, job training, and college workforce education.  About a dozen states are using sector-specific Career Pathways partnerships as the framework for these efforts. The best state initiatives create access to college and career pathways at different skill levels, accommodate a variety of students, and work closely with employers to ensure that education and training reflect what is valued in the labor market and help lead to family-supporting careers.

Promising state strategies:

  • Create and support regional, sector-based partnerships among businesses, educational agencies and workforce organizations;
  • Map career pathways in sectors important to regional economies, then identify and fill education and training gaps in those pathways;
  • Work with employers to expand opportunities for educational advising services and to integrate work and education;
  • Align assessments and entry and exit criteria between steps in career pathways programs, customizing the entry and exit criteria to the skills needed for particular pathways;
  • Adopt policies that facilitate the transfer of students and educational credit (i.e. articulation) between community colleges and other workforce education providers;
  • Streamline curricula development and approval processes for postsecondary education and training, to keep programs current with business needs;
  • Embed support for career pathways and bridge programs into relevant workforce development, human services, and career and technical education programs;
  • Ensure that employer-focused training programs have strong connections to state and local basic skills and postsecondary programs; and
  • Develop or improve standards for assessing whether prior on-the-job learning, certifications, and competencies count toward college credit, to promote attainment of postsecondary credentials.

National Resources for State Policy Makers

Overcoming Obstacles, Optimizing Opportunities:  State Policies to Increase Postsecondary Attainment for Low-Skilled Adults.
Amy-Ellen Duke and Julie Strawn. Jobs for the Future (2008).

This report, prepared for the Breaking Through initiative, offers state policymakers six policy recommendations to increase postsecondary attainment for low-skilled adults.

Ohio Stackable Certificates: Models for Success.
Community Research Partners (2008).

This report summarizes a range of promising state policies and programs designed to improve transitions into postsecondary education and support attainment of credentials valued in the labor market.

The Landscape of Noncredit Workforce Education: State Policies and Community College Practices.
Michelle Van Noy, James Jacobs, Suzanne Korey, Thomas Bailey and Katherine L. Hughes. Community College Research Center, Teacher's College, Columbia University (2008).

This report provides detailed findings on state policies and community college practice on noncredit workforce education, drawn from interviews with policymakers in all 50 states and case studies of 20 community colleges in ten states. It also offers recommendations for policy and practice.

Career Pathways: A Strategy for Transforming America’s Workforce Education Systems to Support Economic Growth.
Education Commission of the States (2007).

This brief article summarizes four Workforce Strategy Center publications that provide guidance to state and local policymakers on developing and supporting career pathways.

Career Pathways as a Systemic Framework.
League for Innovation in the Community College (2007).

This brief lays out the basics of the “career pathways” approach to workforce development. It explains why this approach should be taken and defines the core elements of career pathways.

A Cross-Case Analysis of Career Pathway Programs That Link Low-Skilled Adults to Family-Sustaining Wage Careers.
Debra D. Bragg, Christine D. Bremer, Marisa Castellano, Catherine Kirby, Ann Mavis, Donna Schaad and Judith Sunderman. Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2007).

This analysis is one of the few studies that focuses on the design and implementation of career pathways initiatives geared to low-skilled adults. It provides rich detail on initiatives in three states and describes implications for policy and practice.

Working Together: Aligning State Systems and Policies for Individual and Regional Prosperity. Christopher Mazzeo, Brandon Roberts, Christopher Spence and Julie Strawn. Workforce Strategy Center (2006).

This report offers recommendations to state policymakers on supporting career pathways. The report urges state leaders to provide better access to student aid; build programs to support students; make transitions between education levels easier; engage employers with workforce needs; build capacity and financing systems; and measure results.

State Policy Examples

Arkansas has used Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other funds to support career pathways initiatives. A February 2008 report describes state progress in developing and implementing local initiatives.

Career pathways development in Ohio is being led by regional coordinators, with each region focusing on creating four pathways: one in health care, and three others in locally important occupations or industries.

In 2004 Oregon launched the Pathways to Advancement initiative to ensure that citizens have access to postsecondary education and credentials needed for good jobs with high wages and the potential for advancement. Oregon has a web site with many resources and examples of local initiatives.

Virginia has developed a statewide strategic plan for implementing career pathways. A December 2008 report describes roles and responsibilities of state agencies and includes an action plan.

The state is rolling out career pathways and related basic skills bridge programs statewide through a series of grants to local colleges and workforce boards, a detailed definition of career pathways key elements, and a scan of relevant workforce development programs that can potentially support career pathways implementation and sustainability.

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