Module 5: Managing the Moving Parts
Organizing your work in support of career pathways implementation may seem a bit like managing an octopus at times. There are many moving parts – often moving in different directions simultaneously. To ensure your career pathways efforts get off the ground, commit to planning and structuring your work around purposeful, scheduled tasks that are grouped in four phases:
The planning process begins with a small group of key leaders who share a collective vision for career pathways. This vision grows when additional partners are identified and engaged and when all partners have committed to investing time and resources in the partnership to advance career pathways for the benefit of the community. The planning phase should include activities and actions to build awareness of and advocacy for career pathways among community stakeholders. The career pathways partnership – whether in the form of a committee, an advisory board, a consortium of local partners, or similar structure – should draft an action plan to accomplish its vision. The plan should describe what is to be achieved, why, how, when the various components will be achieved and who is responsible for each element. Refer to the Action Plan in the Activities section of this module for a template to get started.The design phase comes next and is when you will answer many of the questions noted above, such as identifying, defining, developing, specifying, assigning and scheduling the various components of the career pathways program. These elements will likely include:
- Curriculum/courses (What? Where? By whom? Competencies addressed? Credentials awarded?)
- Work-based learning experiences
- Information, promotion, and marketing
- Student guidance, counseling and recruitment
- Staff development
- Articulation and credit policies/procedures
- Articulation agreements
- Pilot activities/programs
The implementation phase involves action to prepare for and launch the career pathways program and courses. This includes acquiring or leveraging appropriate instructional materials, facilities, equipment, and supplies; assigning, equipping, and training instructors and counselors; and recruiting/enrolling students. During this period, the informational/promotional activities shift from being directed primarily to employers, college staff, and community stakeholders to being directed at potential students and community groups who can assist you in reaching potential students; in other words, moving from advocacy building to recruitment. Once program implementation is underway, the evaluation/improvement phase officially starts and continues indefinitely, yet the design of the evaluation should occur during the planning phase. The purpose of the evaluation phase is to determine what elements of the career pathways program are successful and what elements need to be improved. Is the program achieving the stated goals, in terms of the measures the partnership agreed upon in its action plan? Is the program being implemented as originally intended? Are students and employers benefitting from the program? Following are some points to consider. A well-planned and implemented career pathways evaluation:
- Involves the systematic collection and use of data for the purpose of making
decisions, and should be an integral part of your career pathways program, starting at the planning stage.
- Gives you – program developers and participants – ongoing feedback.
- Involves collecting data for interim reports to the partnership and funders, and allows
them to make an assessment of the differences in success rates of various program participants and components.
- Will identify both areas of strength and areas of concern that may need to be addressed by those implementing the program.
- Provides data for continuation funding, if applicable.
- Helps improve the quality of curriculum development and delivery, as well as of career guidance.
- Demonstrates that a program is having a desired effect and that financial resources are being well spent.
- Should be simple, understandable, and usable.
- Should be both time- and cost-effective, and should meet or exceed the requirements of your state and
local guidelines and of the Perkins Act.
- Should identify the expected student and program outcomes, including both descriptive and quantitative data.
- Should be ongoing and dynamic.
Your institutional research division is a likely source for assistance in designing your evaluation plan or can assist you in identifying and contracting with an external evaluator whose objectivity can lend additional credibility to the findings.
What About Funding?
Funding for your career pathways program will likely fall into two categories:
- One-time costs to create system changes to support career pathways
- Ongoing (annual) costs to maintain and improve the system
Since the “change factors” involved in launching a career pathways system will vary
considerably from one institution to another, it’s difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all set of
costs that will apply to every situation. However, below are broad categories of change that can be used
to identify resources that will need to be included in a specific budget.
- Project staffing and support
- Efforts to build understanding of and advocacy for career pathways
- Plan development
- Program implementation – changes that will affect the educational delivery system,
including faculty development, establishing an evaluation system, instructional materials, and
professional release time.
Start-up costs are ones that are needed for stimulating the development and implementation of a program, but your eye should be on institutionalizing the program from the outset. Expenses such as lab equipment and instructor salaries should not be considered part of your career pathways budget, but a necessary part of your institution’s regular budget. Below are some budget issues to consider:
Identify resources already available that can be used in career pathways development:
- Existing articulated programs
- Existing business-education advisory committees
- Nearby expertise for faculty/staff training
- Instructors with curriculum development expertise
- Employers who can lend equipment or labs
- Existing community or business partnerships that can be leveraged in promoting your program
- Other community organizations and government agencies in your area with similar interests who
could help host meetings, print materials, conduct stakeholder outreach, or provide related services.
Coordinating Work-based Learning Experiences
While high-quality technical programs delivered within our community college walls
are effective at preparing completers to be successful on the job, those programs are
even more effective when student learning experiences are enhanced through work-based
learning opportunities. While the format of these opportunities will vary by program
area/industry, level of participating students, and worksite environment, work-based
learning allows students to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical experiences.
You will likley be called upon to identify and potentially coordinate the types of
experiences afforded to students through career pathways programs. Here are some
suggestions for both employers and educators to consider when including work-based
learning in a career pathways program.
- Agree on the purpose of the work-based learning program. This will mean ongoing conversations
among employers and educators about the expectations and the needs of all parties concerned.
- Arrive at a consensus on learning objectives. Educators and employers should discuss, identify,
specify, and measure what the students need to learn, both in the classroom and in the workplace.
- Set up a reasonable and progressive schedule for work-based learning.
- Require signed agreements between the student and the employer who provides the work-based learning environment.
A formal agreement helps reinforce the employer’s investment in the program and makes sure the student is
informed about employer expectations and program objectives.
- Award appropriate credit for demonstrated competencies obtained through work-based experiences. Both the
employer and educator should agree on the level of competency the student is expected to achieve and how that
competency is to be assessed.
- Focus expectations appropriately. Students’ expectations should be based on career preparation,
interest, and ability. Employers’ expectations should be based on how their efforts will contribute
to a better workforce. Educators’ expectations should be based on the ways that practical work
experience can reinforce academic learning.
- Make sure students understand that work-based learning opportunities do not necessarily lead to eventual
employment at the workplace learning site.
Make work-based learning partnerships a priority for your career pathways program and include messaging
about the benefits of such opportunities in your career pathways marketing. Help employers understand how work-based
learning can transform their worksite into a laboratory that offers real-world context and technical training that
could go a long way in helping them address their long-term workforce needs by “growing their own”
Points to Ponder
The coordination of career pathways efforts at the local level requires creativity, organization, effective and
frequent communication, relationship building, and stamina, not to mention program-specific knowledge and an ability
to help stakeholders find common ground. These characteristics, and no doubt many others, will serve you well as you
embark on the career pathways journey. Use the guidance and suggestions offered in this course to build your
foundational knowledge of career pathways and take advantage of the resources and planning activities to explore
successful models, benefit from the lessons learned by others, and organize your work. Remember that stakeholder
engagement is essential to creating a responsive career pathways system that truly meets the needs of your
community and region.
As you continue to travel the road of career pathways coordination, keep in mind the following suggestions.
- Look for ways to support learners and remove barriers to their success. Your community can only
benefit from career pathways if programs are developed in partnership with employers, program content and aligned
credentials are stacked in logical increments, and students have both the academic and social supports needed to
stay the course. Build a culture of learner success in which all stakeholders are contributing.
- Connect with others. Engagement, relationship building, compromise, and flexibility — the
importance of these words cannot be underestimated. Successful career pathways programs are usually led by
visionaries with a well-connected, frequently engaged team or committee that is deeply committed to the career
pathways system and the programs within it.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Career pathways build upon the best of what many community
and technical colleges already offer. Examine existing programs, support services, committees, community
partnerships, and recruitement and retention practices. Don't fix what's not broken. Instead, build a career
pathways culture of excellence by engaging institutional faculty and staff in a visioning process to identify
what successful existing elements can be synthesized, streamlined, or expanded to support the development
of a career pathways system.
- Look for economies of scale in the region. Depending on the size of your community and
the number of partnering entities, you may be designing a system and programs to respond to the needs of
just one sector within a portion of a large city, or you may be engaging stakeholders from several counties
and sector-based employers from across a geographic region to build a career pathways system responsive
to "local" needs. Rural, suburban, and urban settings each require different approaches to
community engagement based on their size, demographics, and unique geographic boundaries or barriers.
Don't be afraid to reach out to other community or technical colleges in your region who may be interested
in developing similar programs. Don't assume that because a particular company hasn't participated in
work-based learning in the past that they wouldn't in the future, given the right conditions, parameters,
and partnership. Reach out to your workforce board and local workforce agency. Engage your feeder school
districts and CTE directors.
Above all, approach the journey with the spirit of cooperation and community building. Your enthusiasm
and passion may just be contagious.