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.
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