Building Career Pathways Systems for Education, Training, and Employment

This brief discusses the implementation of career pathways under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and considerations for state adult education staff in developing career pathways systems to support individuals in their pursuit of education and employment. 

Judith A. Alamprese
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Abt Associates
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

Crucial to the nation’s economic growth and individuals’ social and personal well-being is the availability of education and training that enables adults to learn new skills, obtain higher paying jobs, and build careers. The primary federal legislation supporting education, training services, and workforce development for adults – the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014– is a catalyst for delivering the types of education, training, and employment services that facilitate adults’ economic and career success. WIOA emphasizes the building and alignment of workforce investment, education, and economic development systems that deliver comprehensive employment, education, and supportive services. These services are expected to enable individuals, particularly those with barriers to employment, to obtain the skills and credentials needed to secure jobs with family-sustaining wages, as well as to provide employers with the skilled workforce needed to succeed in a global economy.

WIOA aims to strengthen the U.S. workforce development system by aligning employment, training, and education programs and improving their quality through innovative approaches that address the needs of adults and youth. Career pathways, consistently referenced in WIOA Titles I and II, is an approach that includes innovative policies and practices to facilitate individuals’ education and employment success. The use of a career pathways approach calls for aligned workforce investment, education, and economic development systems at the state and local levels. To obtain this alignment, state and local partners must work together to organize and support the high-quality, coordinated workforce, education, and training services that underlie a career pathways approach.

Thus, to assess services that undergird a career pathways approach, state staff must examine the implementation of career pathways; determine professional development services involved; and leverage data to inform new strategic thinking. 

Benefits and Uses

This policy brief is best used by state adult education staff in understanding career pathways implementation under WIOA, developing career pathways systems of their own, and leveraging data related to career pathways services.

State staff can leverage the career pathways framework included in the brief to assess not only the extent to which adult education providers are implementing career pathways as defined in WIOA, but also to identify gaps that need to be addressed. Additionally, state staff can use the model to communicate to adult education providers the state’s expectations for the types of partnerships that local programs should have in place.

State staff may also gather information about current professional development efforts. This data will inform state staff in selecting the types of professional development that can support local career pathways services.

Lastly, the brief can be used to determine how to collect and use local data related to career pathways. Data on implementation of program services and quality of professional development can assist state staff in planning more effective professional development and technical assistance to support a local career pathways system.

Ultimately, this policy brief informs state adult education staff on how to conduct coordinated education and training services that are aligned with the needs of employers, education, and training that is designed to facilitate individuals’ attainment of skills and credentials that can facilitate their economic well-being and employment in a career pathway.

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