Overview: What Is a Career Pathway?
Career pathways programs provide post-secondary education and training that is organized as a series of manageable steps leading to successively higher credentials and employment opportunities in growing occupations. Each step is designed to prepare individuals for the next level of employment and education and provide a credential with labor market value. To effectively engage and retain trainees, and facilitate learning of a diverse population, programs integrate promising instructional strategies, supports, and employer connections.
Although steps in actual programs vary with their target populations, focal occupations, and service strategies, the broad training and employment step levels are shown in the figure. The bottom two steps (I and II) represent so-called “on ramp” and “bridge” programs, designed to prepare low-skilled participants for college-level training and lower-skilled jobs with a career focus. Basic skill levels differentiating these two steps vary across programs but generally correspond to the 6th-8th grade and 9th-11th grade ranges, respectively.
The next two steps (III and IV) provide college-level training for so-called “middle skills” employment—that is, jobs requiring some college but less than a bachelor’s degree (e.g., an associate’s degree or shorter certificate). The final level (V) includes interventions promoting completion of bachelors’ degrees and more-advanced credentials. The career pathways model is designed to allow initial entries, exits, and re-entries at each stage—depending on skill levels and prior training, employment prospects, and changing personal and family situations.
Career Pathways Framework that Guides ACF Evaluations
The HPOG and PACE programs provide training based on the career pathways framework. This framework embodies several core principles that describe well-defined career pathways as including the specific education and employment steps for the career pathway and how those steps are connected and associated with student supports. The pathways also incorporate how training connects to specific employer-recognized credentials; what competencies are required for each step; how credentials stack on each other to lead to higher-paying jobs; and how non-credit training is connected to credit-bearing education. To engage, retain, and facilitate learning for a diverse population, programs integrate screening, instruction, academic and non-academic supports, and employment experiences and opportunities. The logic model below illustrates a career pathways framework.