For many, earning a college degree is still a desirable concept, but with Americans drowning in nearly $1.3 trillion of student loan debt (average, individual amount is close to $40,000) it seems to be a dream that comes with too hefty a price. One solution to this obstacle is through a career pathways program. This workforce development strategy gives students (and adults) an alternative route for getting into college, and arms them with the skills that are greatly lacking in today’s workforce.
A Well-Skilled Workforce
Per a whitepaper, the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) states the success of America’s future is largely dependent upon an educated, skilled workforce. In addition, improving the skills, knowledge, and credentials of American workers is critical to economic stability, growth, and global competitiveness. In 2014 President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which requires states and localities to collaborate with adult education, post-secondary education, and other partners with the goal of establishing career pathways systems that make it easier for all Americans to attain the skills and credentials needed for jobs in their regional economy.
3 Essential Program Components
To sustain and expand career pathways, there needs to be a strong underlying structure. This means a shared vision and strong career pathway systems in states and communities that make this approach feasible and effective. Your career pathway should have these three essential features:
- Multiple entry points so individuals begin their career path at the most appropriate skill level.
- Multiple exit points so the individual can enter the workforce at various milestones and easily return to their education when ready. This is particularly helpful for adults because it can be done either between jobs, while they are currently working, or if they have stepped away to raise a family and now want to build upon skills and education they already have.
- Well-connected and transparent education, training, credentialing, and support services to facilitate progress along the pathway and ensure participants can get credit for their education and experience in the future.
The good news is that career pathways programs are increasingly being established and supported across the United States. However, without the strong underlying structure we talked about, their growth could become stunted. Educators, schools, and companies must work together to deliver:
- Quality education and training.
- Consistent and non-duplicative assessments of participants’ assets and needs.
- Support services and career navigation assistance.
- Employment services and work experiences.
By offering students and adults who possess some skill level an educational alternative that will advance their careers and flood the workforce with competent employees, is not only a great investment, but a win for all involved.
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