Scaling and Sustaining Career Pathways



A career pathway approach 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 helps people 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 pathways vary widely across education and workforce systems. Some pathways primarily serve career and technical education (CTE) and high school students, others have served adults, and still other pathways have been housed in postsecondary institutions. Until recently, there was not a common language for career pathways.

Recognizing the importance of a shared understanding of career pathways and what makes them effective, CLASP organized the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways (a partnership with ten career pathways states) in 2012. With support from the Joyce Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, and Greater Twin Cities United Way, CLASP and the Alliance states developed an overarching framework to recognize the transformative work already being done while establishing a common language to help policymakers, employers, and those in the field better understand, strengthen, and engage in career pathways.

The Alliance framework was developed with input from experts in the CTE and disconnected youth fields, many of whom are represented on the Alliance’s state teams and National Advisory Group. The Alliance also sought input from CLASP’s youth policy team and Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth (CCRY), a network of workforce and youth development professionals dedicated to cross-system policy and practice solutions for youth who are disconnected from school and work.

The Alliance framework, Shared Vision, Strong Systems: The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0, provides criteria and indicators for what constitutes quality career pathway systems, as well as a set of shared participant metrics for measuring and managing their success. The framework has three parts:

  • Definitions and a conceptual model that provide a refined and updated understanding of career pathway systems, pathways and programs, building upon past definitions. Career pathway partners can use these definitions and conceptual model to develop a shared understanding as they collaborate to build quality systems, pathways, and programs that are strong enough to hold up under rigorous evaluation.
  • Criteria and indicators for quality career pathway systems, pathways, and programs established for both the state and local/regional levels. These criteria and indicators can help partners build strong, functioning career pathways, which is a prerequisite to measuring the ultimate test of quality: successful participant outcomes and local impact. Additionally, a shared framework of quality criteria and specific indicators can help partners develop a continuous improvement process for successful cross-agency systems, pathways and programs. The AQCP criteria and indicators are based on the best collective “wisdom from the field” that can assist partners in building quality career pathway systems, pathways, and programs while the evidence base for this approach grows.
  • Career pathway participant metrics designed for partners to measure and manage the progress and success of career pathway participants. The menu of metrics proposed in this framework includes many already in use for performance accountability, such as Perkins and WIA Title I: Youth, as well as metrics not currently used in state or federal systems. A unique feature of the AQCP metrics is that they are meant to measure the results of specific career pathways that cross systems.

Because the framework has been designed to be inclusive, and this is the first attempt at such a voluntary, consensus-based, detailed set of system criteria, we may not have gotten all of the indicators necessary for each system. This is why this version is called “Version 1.0”! We encourage career pathway partnerships serving disconnected youth and CTE students to carefully review and test-out the framework; please share feedback with us over the coming years.

To get a better sense of the framework’s use and applicability, on Friday, September 12, 2014, The Transformative Change Initiative (TCI) network has invited CLASP to present Shared Vision, Strong Systems to TAACCCT consortium grantees and others. Reserve your webinar seat to attend.

Manuela Ekowo is the Project Manager of the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Photo credit: Flickr

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