CLASP Provides Leadership in Building a Shared Vision and Knowledge Base for Career Pathways

By Vickie Choitz

The career pathways approach to credential attainment and workforce development is gaining momentum. This effort has been fueled by investments from public and private funders, including the federal departments of education, labor, transportation, and health and human services, as well as foundations supporting initiatives such as Shifting Gears, Accelerating Opportunity, and the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways. Federal agencies have also issued supportive policy guidance including the Department of Education’s 2010 guidance on using adult education funds for integrated education and training, the Department of Labor’s 2010 guidance on credential attainment, and the 2012 cross-agency joint letter of commitment to career pathways.  And very recently, a federal interagency workgroup requested input from the field about career pathways.

While these activities have played a key role in facilitating the development of career pathways, the real driver has been the significant need for a new approach to education and workforce development. This need stems from a national conundrum: nearly two-thirds of all jobs in the near future will require postsecondary credentials and these credentials are becoming essential for low-income workers to access middle class employment. Yet, according to a 2013 international survey of adult skills, tens of millions of U.S. adults have skill levels too low to succeed in earning these credentials or landing and holding on to family-supporting jobs. This leaves employers without the skilled workforce they need, stifles economic mobility for tens of millions of workers and job seekers, and hampers regional and national economic growth. Exacerbating this challenge: today’s education and workforce development systems were designed for different times and not built to provide most workers or job seekers with seamless pathways to postsecondary credentials.

The career pathway approach is a paradigm shift in how we prepare people for work and lifelong learning. It connects progressive levels of education, training, support services, and credentials for specific occupations in a way that optimizes the progress and success of individuals with varying levels of abilities and needs (this approach can benefit well-prepared students, but is especially beneficial for more vulnerable populations). This approach helps individuals earn marketable credentials, engage in further education and employment, and achieve economic success. Career pathways deeply engage employers and help meet their workforce needs; they also help states and communities strengthen their workforces and economies. Career pathway systems are the partnerships, policies, funding and resources, and data and metrics that support this approach.

Adopting a career pathway approach requires significant alignment and integration, which is not easy; however, over a dozen states and many more communities have already adopted or explored this new way of doing business. And, the federal government continues its commitment to helping states and local regions develop and sustain this approach, as evidenced by its ongoing interagency working group on career pathways and the recently released Request for Information on Adoption of Career Pathways Approaches (RFI). Federal agencies will use the input collected through this RFI to “inform and coordinate policy development, strategic investments, and technical assistance activities” and to “improve coordination of Federal policy development.”

CLASP commends the Obama Administration and the departments for their leadership and commitment to career pathways and was pleased to submit a response to the RFI. As we noted in our response, if the career pathway approach is to live up to its full potential as a systems transformation strategy, the field will need continued investments, guidance, technical assistance, innovation, and a clear shared understanding of career pathway systems, how they are built and maintained, and how they can best support pathways and programs at the local level. Common language, joint cross-agency criteria for quality career pathway systems, and shared participant metrics will be essential. CLASP has worked with our Alliance for Quality Career Pathways partners to develop a framework that includes these components, and we look forward to continuing to work with our partners, the federal agencies, and supporters in the field to achieve our shared goal of promoting and strengthening career pathways for workers/job seekers, employers, and communities.