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Are We on the Brink of Something Big in Career Pathways?

A large group of diverse adults dressed for a wide variety of careers.

Are We on the Brink of Something Big in Career Pathways?

IEL’s president Johan E. Uvin published an article in the Council on Adult Basic Education Journal’s recent special edition, Featuring Career Pathways. The article, titled “Are We on the Brink of Something Big?: Reflections on the Current and Future State of Career Pathways Policy and Practice,” focuses on taking “on the next level of policy and practice challenges until we make good on the promise of career pathways as an equity strategy that provides employers with the skilled labor they seek and individuals and families with meaningful employment, good wages, and benefits.”

The article explores and acknowledges the work that drove federal policy development for career pathways, particularly the emergence of a federal policy framework for career pathway programs and systems in the 2000s and its evolution to what we have today, including the codification of career pathways in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014.

Further, the article examines the current state of career pathways policy and practice, including the need for supporting “robust career pathways implementation at scale, continued investments in evaluation, and innovation and ideation,” as well as maintaining investements in evaluation of career pathways programs, policy, and systems.

Uvin goes on to encourage innovation “to meet unmet equity challenges and take full advantage of rapid technology developments.” But beyond innovation within the current system, he asks, “What do future career pathway programs and systems look like? How might we design them using equity as the driving design principle so we can begin to address persistent inequities and inequalities?”

Uvin ends the article with a call to action:

“There is lots of work to be done. I have described some of that work. There are ample opportunities for public and private funders to seed the policy and program innovation work. There are numerous opportunities for tribal, municipal, county, state, and national lawmakers to grant the authority and flexibility to optimize the pooling of resources to expand access to and outcomes of career pathway programs. There are almost unlimited opportunities for local leaders and teachers, faculty, and trainers to identify and implement program innovations.

“Beyond these steps, I believe that it is time for us collectively to begin the next dialogue on career pathways to examine what career pathway programs and systems look like in the future world of work. I am willing to help facilitate that dialogue and invite you to step forward if you are. This dialogue will afford us—in the public and private sectors—the chance to design a system for equity and prosperity that can reverse the disturbing trends in lack of affordable access and widening income gaps and wealth inequalities by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, language proficiency, and other background characteristics and circumstances. The ecosystem we aspire to should work for all Americans, not some. If we build it with equity as our central design principle, it will work well for everyone, everywhere, from the urban core, to suburbia, to Indian country, to rural communities, including Appalachia.”

Read the full article.