Career Pathways

Last Updated: 03/31/2024

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Career pathways are a workforce development strategy used to support workers’ transitions from education into and through the workforce marketplace. This strategy has been adopted at federal, state, and local levels to increase education, training, and learning opportunities for America’s current and emerging workforce.  Because these pathways cross industry and education sectors, states often combine multiple funding streams to fund different elements of career pathways models. 

A career pathways initiative typically consists of a partnership among K-12 schools, community colleges, workforce and economic development agencies, employers, labor groups, and social service providers. The model connects progressive levels of education, training, support services, and credentials for specific occupations. Its aims are to help individuals earn marketable credentials, engage in further education and employment, and achieve economic success. 

Community colleges often play a central role in career pathways initiatives by coordinating occupational training, remediation, academic credentialing, and transfer among the partner organizations.

The Center for Law and Social Policy’s Alliance for Quality Career Pathways (AQCP) lists three essential features of Career Pathways:

  1. Well-connected and transparent education, training, credentials and support services.
  2. Multiple entry points for well-prepared students and for targeted populations, and multiple exit points into the labor market.
  3. Multiple exit points at successively higher levels, leading to self- or family-supporting employment and aligned with subsequent entry points.

The U.S. Department of Education identifies six key elements or actions that states and local areas can take to develop and implement Career Pathways systems: 

  1. Build cross-system partnerships. 
  2. Engage employers/identify key industry sectors. 
  3. Design education and training programs that meet the needs of participants. 
  4. Identify funding for sustainability and scale. 
  5. Align policies and programs. 
  6. Align cross-system data and performance measurement.

Relationship to Ecosystem

Career pathways offer a way to organize and formally align the education, workforce, and support services across multiple providers to enable individuals to attain the credentials required for family-supporting careers.

Alternative Terminology

Connected credentials
Credentialing pathway
Guided pathways


Career Pathways - Wikipedia

Shared Vision, Strong Systems Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, A Project of CLASP, Framework Version 1.0 June 2014. 

The Evolution and Potential of Career Pathways. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. (2015, April).

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