Career pathways are complex systems that leverage education, workforce development, and social service supports to help people obtain the skills they need to find employment and advance in their careers. Coordinating people, services, and resources across multiple state agencies and training providers can be a complicated, confusing, and at times, frustrating process. Changes to longstanding organizational norms can feel threatening, which may lead some to question or actively resist proposed reforms.

To ensure lasting success, sustainability and evaluation efforts should be integrated into career pathways system development and implementation efforts at the outset to ensure new programmatic connections are robust and positioned for longevity.

To support states and local communities in evaluating and planning for sustainability, RTI International created A Tool for Sustaining Career Pathways Efforts.

This innovative paper draws upon change management theory and lessons learned from a multi-year, federally-funded initiative to support five states in integrating career and technical education into their career pathways. Hyperlinks embedded within the paper allow readers to access and download state resources developed to help evaluate and sustain career pathways efforts. A Career Pathways Sustainability Checklist, included at the end of the report, can be used to assess your state’s or local community’s progress toward building a foundation for the long-term success of its career pathways system development efforts.

This paper identified three factors that contribute to sustainability in career pathways systems.

1. Craft a Compelling Vision and Building Support for Change

Lasting system transformation begins with lowering organizational resistance to change. This requires that stakeholders build consensus around a common vision and set of goals for the change process, establish new management structures to facilitate cross-agency communications, obtain endorsements from high-level leaders willing to champion the initiative, and publicize project work through appropriate communication channels.

2. Engage Partners and Stakeholders in the Change Process

Relationships play a critical role in maintaining systems over time. Sustaining change requires actively engaging a broad range of partners in an ongoing dialogue to share information about project work, progress, and outcomes, making course corrections when needed. Employer involvement also is essential to ensure that education and training services are aligned with labor market demand.

3. Adopt New Behaviors, Practices, and Processes

Once initial objectives are achieved, system designers will want to lock down new processes and connections to prevent systems from reverting to their original form. This can be accomplished by formalizing new partner roles and expectations, creating an infrastructure for ensuring ongoing communication, formulating accountability systems to track systemic outcomes, and securing new long-term resources and making more effective use of existing funding.

For additional information contact the authors:

Steve Klein;
Debbie Mills;

About the Authors

Steven Klein

Steven Klein box with arrow

Director RTI International

Steven G. Klein directs RTI International’s Center for Career and Adult Education and Workforce Development. Dr. Klein specializes in the design of education accountability and finance systems, policy analysis and research, and the evaluation of state career education and pathways initiatives. He serves as principal investigator for the National Center for Innovation in Career and Technical Education and for RTI’s evaluation of the JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s New Skills for Youth initiative. Dr. Klein served for 10 years as a school board member of Riverdale School District in Portland, Oregon, and prior to joining RTI, taught high school math and science. He is currently learning how to metal inert gas (MIG) weld.

Debbie Mills

Debbie Mills box with arrow

Director National Career Pathways Network

Debbie Mills currently serves as the director of the National Career Pathways Network. Mills is also a developer, writer, and subject matter expert (SME) for the Six Key Elements of Career Pathways Toolkit (2nd ed.). She has expertise in career pathways systems, curriculum development, staff development, linkages between secondary and postsecondary institutions, community engagement, and partnerships with business, industry and labor. Extensive expertise includes career pathways program review, assisting state and community colleges with strategic professional development plans for staff and faculty, building partnerships in communities, and development of adult career pathways projects. She is an SME for both the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor for career pathways.

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