Career Pathways in Career and Technical Education

This brief provides the CTE community with an introduction to career pathways for adults. Career pathways are now defined the same way in three laws: Perkins V, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the Higher Education Act (HEA).

Throughout Perkins V, career pathways are repeatedly mentioned in connection with programs of study. However, as programs of study and career pathways for adults have evolved, they have followed parallel paths that, until now, have not crossed. Because these two reform efforts were shaped by different legislative directives, delivery systems, and funding streams, programs of study and career pathways frequently work in relative isolation from each other.

Especially given their clear connections in Perkins V, these two reform efforts should be well-aligned to provide rigorous on-ramps to meaningful postsecondary education and training for both recent high school graduates and adults. Ideally, career pathways and programs of study in the same sector would share opportunities like employer partnerships and labor-market-valued credentials identified as most relevant for their local economies. They would leverage each other’s industry connections and other strengths, reducing duplication and building synergies.  

State and local efforts to align career and technical education (CTE) programs of study with career pathways require a commitment from multiple partners working toward greater transparency, alignment, and systemic change.  The fact sheet concludes with recommendations for state CTE leaders.