Pathways to Careers
A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training

Connecting With the Broader Education Community

The necessary elements for regional economic success in the 21st century are no mystery: communities will thrive or decline based on how well they cultivate and retain "knowledge workers." These individuals possess post-secondary educational credentials, technical skills, the ability to learn rapidly and an entrepreneurial approach to work and career management.

- The Career Pathways How-To Guide, Davis Jenkins and Christopher Spence, Workforce Strategy Center, 2006, page 1

Jobs that offer a living wage and career advancement opportunities increasingly require more than just a high school education. Yet many new and incumbent workers do not have the skills needed for these jobs. To ensure economic viability and growth, communities need to examine, improve, and expand the range of education and training opportunities and resources available to their youth and adults. One promising strategy for enhancing education and training outcomes is career pathways aligned with local industry career ladders and offering multiple entry and exit points. This strategy requires a strong partnership among all levels of education-secondary, postsecondary, and adult education.

The stories below illustrate lessons learned about connecting with the broader education community by the teams that participated in the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) initiative, a joint project of the U.S. departments of Education and Labor. Teams attended one of several institutes to receive technical assistance in partnership development, strategic planning, and implementation of career pathways in specific high-growth industries. The stories also include advice from the consultants who have developed career pathways with secondary and postsecondary institutions and adult education.

At the end of this section is a list of resources that are either referenced in the text or related to the lessons learned. Each resource includes a brief description and URL.

Lessons Learned

Develop and Expand Career Pathways

The SPCW initiative encouraged teams to consider the career pathways framework (see Building a Competitive Workforce Through Career Pathways in Resources) as the approach to expanding connections with the education community. This approach typically focuses on high-demand, high-wage industries and incorporates all steps needed to prepare workers for employment and advancement at every stage of their careers. These steps include education, skills training, work experience, and skills upgrading. Successful pathways also typically include career guidance, adult basic education, programs to support the transition to postsecondary education, internships, and social supports as necessary.

Develop pathways with partner input

The process for developing a career pathway is described in the Career Pathways How-To Guide (see Resources). The five main steps include: conducting a skills gap analysis to drive strategic planning; planning the career pathway; implementing the pathway; assessing and improving the pathway; and expanding the pathway to other populations, geographic areas, and industries.

As the team from Southeast Minnesota learned, it is important to get partners' input at each step of developing a career pathway. Two team members, Julia Bronner, dean of academic affairs at Riverland Community College, and Becky Thofson, area manager of Workforce Development, Inc., drafted an initial version of the pathway, which charted student progress from the local health care academy to obtaining a certified nursing assistant degree and/or entering a four-year degree program. Bronner and Thofson then took the draft to each of their partners for feedback, including all of the education and employer partners. By sharing this first draft, they got valuable advice from partners that allowed them to refine the pathway and boost buy-in from various sectors.

When they saw the first draft, long-term care employers lamented that they have a hard time convincing certified nursing assistants to return to school and suggested a pathway that focused on the long-term care pipeline. The employers' feedback led Bronner and Thofson to create two different approaches to the pathway. They've since developed two career maps (see Healthcare Career Ladder in Resources) to show one pathway from high school to postsecondary education and another from high school into entry-level positions and subsequent paths within the long-term care industry (see Long Term Care Skilled Worker Pathway in Resources).

Create Secondary-to-Postsecondary Connections

As outlined in the College and Career Transitions Initiative's Career Pathways Technical Assistance Package listed under Resources, secondary and postsecondary institutions should establish articulation agreements, dual-enrollment programs, and college prep opportunities to ensure that students can move easily from high school to college-level education and career training. A strong dual enrollment program can illustrate to students the ease with which they can accrue postsecondary credentials. For these approaches to succeed, however, students first must be interested in furthering their education and career opportunities. Employer participation is also crucial to make sure education connects to the workforce.

Market career opportunities to middle school and high school students

The team from Waukesha County (Wis.) is concerned that many students currently enrolled in health care occupations education are older. The average student enrolled in the community college is 36 years old. "We want to try to plant seeds among younger individuals who are still in high school, before they enter college or the labor market and begin to think about careers," said Margaret Brown, the Waukesha Community College representative. To achieve this goal, the team has met with tech prep councils in all of the local school districts to discuss how to promote health care career pathways in high school. It has worked with district personnel to develop dual enrollment opportunities, so that high school students interested in the health care professions can receive credit concurrently toward a high school diploma and a college degree. The team plans to expand its outreach efforts to parents to prepare them to discuss health care careers with their children. It would like to develop a Web site for parents and students that would have information about health care job openings, educational opportunities, and a comprehensive view of career pathways in the health care field in Waukesha County.

Bridge the divide between teachers and employers

To ensure that secondary educators and employers were on the same page, the team from Cullman (Ala.), Cullman Area Workforce Solutions (CAWS), decided to use some of its Community-Based Job Training grant money to fund a program allowing K-12 educators to learn about high-growth industries for a few days during the summer. When this idea was presented to the employer leaders of the partnership, they wanted to expand the scope to a two-week professional development opportunity resulting in real-world industry experience and a completed lesson plan sharing the results of the experience with students. The 10 participating employers agreed to supplement the grant funds to cover each teacher's salary for the two-week period. The result was the CAWS Educator Exchange Awards.

The Educator Exchange Awards program was piloted in the summer of 2007. Representatives of eight industries and 16 teachers in grades 7 to 12 spent two weeks learning about each other and discussing common goals. For some participants, this was an eye-opening experience. One participant spent two weeks at McGriff Industries in Cullman. She reported, "I've lived here all my life, but I never knew or understood the comprehensive nature of what McGriff industries accomplishes daily." Another participant was struck by the similarities between education and business. During her two weeks at American Protein, she noticed how the company trained her incrementally and thoroughly. She learned safety first and then was supervised by a mentor in several different employee roles. The second week she became part of a company group of more than 20 people. Now her business colleagues are planning to visit her classroom and talk to her students.

How did the partnership come up with the Educator Exchange Program? A subgroup of the team convened a focus group with educators to talk about how to get the word out about career opportunities in high-growth local industries to students, parents, and teachers. It investigated a similar program in another community and decided to try it in Cullman. Then the educator focus group met with several local industries and asked them if they would be willing to allow the teachers to work with them. The businesses agreed. According to Judy Bradford of Axsys Industries, "We wanted to participate. This is very near and dear to our hearts. We're going to do whatever it takes to be successful. That's just the bottom line."

Create Pathways for Low-Wage, Low-Skill Adults and Out-of-School Youths

Low-wage, low-skill adults and out-of-school youth enroll in career education and training programs for a variety of reasons. Incumbent workers may want to upgrade their skills to remain current or advance to a higher-level position. Dislocated workers often must be retrained to prepare for a different career track or high-growth industry. Low-wage, low-skill workers often lack the basic skills required to enter and advance in a career track position. Connecting these adults and out-of-school youth to the training and credentials they need requires changing the structure and delivery of education and career training to the community as a whole and to the economically disadvantaged in particular. Promising practices include

  • Creating bridge programs between developmental/adult education and credit-bearing programs;
  • Developing pathways within community colleges leading to certification and college degrees;
  • Offering education and training programs at times convenient for working adults;
  • Expanding support services that promote student success;
  • Promoting opportunities for life-long learning, including incumbent worker training; and
  • Integrating academic and vocational education.

Create short-term training courses

To ensure that education and training programs were meeting the needs of incumbent workers, the Elizabethtown (Ky.) partnership surveyed a selection of those types of workers. It was immediately apparent that many employees harbored a fear of going back to school. To assuage this fear, the team developed several short-term training courses to help employees upgrade their skills and slowly re-introduce them to education. The first course was an immensely popular training course and certification for hospital security personnel. "It expanded well beyond the hospitals and was an opportunity to get people in the classroom and doing things in an applied capacity to build that comfort level," said project consultant Beth Jefferson. A local adult education provider also tutored employees on-site through the One-Stop center located at one of the hospitals.

Bring adult education students to the college

One way to expose adult learners to the educational opportunities at community colleges is to provide adult education classes on campus. For example, the adult education member of the team from Billings (Mont.), Adult Education State Director Margaret Bowles, set out to bridge the divide between adult education and the community college in Billings. She is currently working with Jon Cech, Dean of the MSU Billings College of Technology, to create an adult education satellite program on the Billings College of Technology campus. Billings already has an adult education program, but it is located downtown. The College of Technology campus, however, is in a rapidly developing residential area that could draw a different adult learner population and facilitate the transition from adult education programs to college classes. Moreover, MSU Billings is developing its College of Technology to serve as the community college arm of the university, which will focus on a wide variety of two-year, certificate, and workforce development learning opportunities.

Identify potential dropouts and address their needs before they leave school

The growing out-of-school youth population is an increasing concern for communities across the nation, and the Midlands region in South Carolina is no exception. The region is getting support, however, from the state. The state's Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council established the At-Risk Student Committee to develop and implement a plan to address the needs of students at risk of becoming dropouts. The chairperson of this committee, Valerie Richardson, is also part of the Midlands team that attended an SPCW institute. She is working to connect the Midlands region to the various initiatives of the committee; this involves providing local school districts with a series of matrices to help them decide which programs and strategies best match their needs. The Matrix of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, for example, rates dropout prevention programs as exemplary or promising. It also provides a general overview of each program, including contacts and cost information. The matrices are part of a larger guide developed by the committee, the At-Risk Student Intervention Implementation Guide (see Resources).

The At-Risk Student Committee also recently piloted and evaluated the Star Academy, a dropout prevention program targeting overage middle school students and ninth-grade repeaters. The evaluation (see Star Academy Effectiveness Report in Resources) found that the program meets its primary goals of engaging students in learning; accelerating the learning of students who had previously failed; encouraging students to enroll in the district's career tech school; and having the school district sustain the model beyond the initial pilot year. Richardson plans to share this evaluation when contacting state legislators to support additional program funding, because "they're looking for hard returns for what is working and want to know when it will be self-sufficient, when will it break even." She has already shared it with members of the South Carolina Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council at a monthly council meeting. Following the presentation, the State Department of Education received a $3 million grant from the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation to fund at least nine Star Academy sites.

Provide Student Support Services

Career pathways are designed to help youths and adults advance both to better jobs and further education and training. Support services, such as counseling, case management, child care, transportation, and job-placement assistance are critical to their success. For example, the team from southeast Minnesota found that employees of local businesses are often uncomfortable talking to their supervisors about pursuing education or other employment options. To address this, the team is planning to offer these employees career counseling through the local One-Stop. The goal is to make college career counselors available to coach employees on-site weekly and to show them the career pathway maps to explain their education and training options.

Partners for a Healthy Community in Central Florida also has plans to expand a recently piloted online mentoring program for nursing students. Contracted through the University of Florida, the program gave nursing students an opportunity to chat online with a registered nurse once a week for 30 minutes about professional and personal challenges. The online format has a number of advantages. It gives students greater access to a variety of mentors and provides a more convenient way for mentors to communicate with the students. It also can be less intimidating for students, who may otherwise feel uncomfortable admitting fears and asking questions face-to-face. Moreover, online mentoring provides a unique opportunity for program administrators to monitor communications and intervene when necessary. In fact, the program has been so successful that Partners for a Healthy Community plans to expand it to the region's three community colleges, recruiting additional mentors through nursing associations and advertisements in nursing journals. This activity supports the partnership's goal of increasing retention in the training programs. According to the director, Donna Lenahan, the partnership will consider "anything we can to help students stay in school. Once a student is accepted in a program, it's very important to keep them."


At-Risk Student Intervention Implementation Guide

At-Risk Student Committee (ARSC), South Carolina Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council, n.d.
Frames the issue of high school dropouts as a challenge to state economic development and presents a matrix of exemplary and promising research-based dropout prevention programs. Also includes the committee's definition of "at-risk," common indicators and behaviors of students at risk of dropping out, and program descriptions.
Download/View PDF (3.33mb)

Bridges to Careers for Low-Skilled Adults: A Program Development Guide

Women Employed, 2005
Offers guidance on creating and implementing "bridge programs," to provide basic skills training to low-skilled adults and prepare them for college. Contains tools and resources on forming partnerships, engaging employers, developing curriculum, identifying funding sources, and evaluating bridge programs.
Download/View PDF (714kb)

Bridge Program Planning Guide

Workforce Strategy Center, 2004
Describes features of "bridge programs" linking people with basic skills training for careers and postsecondary education and outlines steps in program implementation. Details key questions related to two phases of program implementation: mapping job/training opportunities and gaps and designing bridge programs to fill gaps, with a focus on curriculum, partnerships, employer involvement, and funding.
Download/View PDF (93kb)

Building a Competitive Workforce Through Career Pathways Systems: Partner Roles and Responsibilities

Workforce Strategy Center, MPR Associates, Inc., and DTI Associates, Inc. for the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) Institutes, 2006
Offers guidelines developed for the SPCW initiative on identifying and selecting partners to support career pathways development. Describes the roles typical partners (e.g., intermediaries, industry, the workforce investment system, and educational institutions) can play.
Download/View PDF (37kb)

The Career Pathways How-To Guide

D. Jenkins and C. Spence, Workforce Strategy Center, 2006
Second in a series of three reports called Pathways to Competitiveness, highlights examples of effective policies and programs in support of career pathways. Guides users through five stages of pathways development: gap analysis, planning, implementation, continuous improvement, and expansion. Includes tips and lessons learned for state administrators based on experiences in pathways development and implementation in California, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington state.
Download/View PDF (570kb)

College and Career Transition Initiative (CCTI)

League for Innovation in the Community College, n.d.
Partially funded by the U.S. Department of Education, this Web site includes helpful resources such as the CCTI College Toolkit, Career Pathways Plans of Study, and a searchable inventory of current practices. Materials are designed to strengthen the role of technical schools and community colleges by easing student transitions between secondary and postsecondary education and to employment and by improving academic performance at both the secondary and postsecondary levels.

College and Career Transitions Initiative's Career Pathways Technical Assistance Package

College and Career Transition Initiative, n.d.
An online resource created by representatives of secondary and postsecondary education, business and industry, and government leaders to provide clear direction to colleges and secondary schools in working with employers to develop career pathways.

Healthcare Career Ladder

Workforce Development Inc., 2007
Sample health care career pathways map from high school through graduate school developed by the SPCW team from Southeast Minnesota. Models many "exit points" from training to employment.
Download/View PDF (48kb)

Long-Term Care Skilled Worker Pathway

Riverland Community College, 2007
Sample career pathways map for long-term care developed by the SPCW team from Southeast Minnesota. Lays out pathway from secondary health care academy through college health care programs with overlapping recruitment and retention chart.
Download/View PDF (11kb)

Star Academy Effectiveness Report

At-Risk Student Committee (ARSC), South Carolina Education and Economic Development Coordinating Council, 2007
Evaluation of the Star Academy, a dropout prevention program developed by ARSC. Program targets middle school students and ninth-grade repeaters. Found that program meets its primary goals of engaging students in learning; accelerating the learning of students who had previously failed; encouraging students to enroll in the district's career tech school; and having the district sustain the model beyond the pilot year.
Download/View PDF (329kb)

Department of Education logo

This represents a major section of Pathways to Careers: A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training, a document that reports on activities connected with an initiative jointly sponsored by the U.S. departments of Education and Labor (the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce initiative). It was produced under U.S. Department of Education Contract No. ED-04-CO-0121/0001 with MPR Associates. Jessica Reed served as the contracting officer's representative. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the departments of Education or Labor. No official endorsement by the departments of Education or Labor of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Further, the inclusion of URLs is a convenience to the reader; it does not imply endorsement by the departments of Education and Labor of either the information presented on these Web sites or of the organizations that sponsor them. All URLs were last accessed on June 16, 2008.

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Last Modified: 05/11/2009