COABE Journal: Strengthening Adult Career Pathways in Minnesota - A PD Cohort for Managers

The COABE Journal recently published, Strengthening Adult Career Pathways in Minnesota:  A Professional Development Cohort for Managers.  Below is the abstract for the piece:

Establishing adult career pathways is challenging, complex work. In Minnesota, a new professional development initiative provides ABE managers with a facilitated, supported, yearlong cohort as they work to create or strengthen a career pathway program in collaboration with WIOA partners in their localities. In this article, the rationale, design, and outcomes of this professional development activity are outlined. Key features include an experiential learning approach, a mix of face-to-face and online interaction and presentation, peer partners, coaching calls, goal-setting, and local action steps.  

I'm interested to hear what our members in Minnesota have to say about this professional development format.  How has this experience changed your approach to thinking about career pathways, and working with local WIOA partners?  


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator



Thanks for this post and the encouragement for Minnesota career pathways leaders to join the discussion.  I'll be sure our participants in the cohort have this link!

This was a new undertaking for ATLAS (ABE Teaching & Learning Advancement System), and we are so pleased with the experience.  A second cohort of ABE managers is already underway! A big thank you to Liz Andress, my co-author, for all her work designing and delivering this PD, and to our MN Department of Education colleagues for their support and expertise putting this together.


Patsy Egan

Director, ATLAS 

I got to design and facilitate this professional development training cohort.  One thing I observed was significant improvement / expansion / deepening of relationships between ABE and workforce entities in the various localities represented in the cohort.  Many ABE administrators started out skeptical of potential for partnerships across these institutions, but by making contacts, getting around the table and identifying mutual goals and target populations, new collaborations were forged.  A health care career pathway employer advisory group was established in one place, with the workforce partner bringing many of the employer relationships to the table and ABE able to talk about ways to upskill incumbent workers or effectively prepare incoming employees to fill vacant positions.  Our Dept. of Corrections ABE state lead made connections with those in the workforce system targeting populations with criminal records for career pathways and viable employment options.  There are many other examples as well.

I have nudged participants from last year to respond to your post!

Liz Andress, Adult Career Pathways Consultant, ATLAS (

Hi, Liz - 

Thanks for sharing your work with us, and some of the examples of how it sparked collaboration, and partnerships to drive new pathways in Minnesota.  It's a sign that these types of professional development have valuable outcomes, and are critical to developing relationships between stakeholders.  Keep up the great work!


Mike Cruse  

Hello, My name is Karen Wolters and I am the Adult Basic Education Coordinator for Mankato Area ABE in south central Minnesota.  I was a participant in this ACP administrative cohort last school year.  I was also a consultant to Liz Andress who facilitated our group.  I have been in partnership with our Local WDB advancing our ACP partnership for at least the past 10 years.  One might ask what I had to gain by attending this cohort after doing this work for more than a decade.  

The cohort was an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about the WIOA law, IET and how ACP programming fits into that picture.  I had the opportunity to gather our Local ACP Partnership together and complete an assessment of our programming in light of the new WIOA law.  We clarified definitions and talked through our roles in that meeting using a tool from our cohort.  I also worked last year on strengthening our referral system within this partnership.  We are still working on that and will continue to do so.  One of the events we hosted last year was an Adult Career Pathways Networking Day where all front-line staff (direct support staff) were invited from all WIOA titles, the local community/technical college partner plus the non-profit community action agencies.  We shared information about each program or support service, how to make referrals and networked with each other to get to know each other better.  It was well received with 100% of the evaluations indicating they would like to do this annually.  The networking event allowed us to learn about our newest ACP grant and to get to know the others who can provide support to the participants as they move through the systems.  

Throughout the cohort we met with ABE Mangers from all over the state who are designing and  implementing their ACP programs.  Some were doing this work for the first time, new managers and some had been around for a long time, like me.  Some were "starting over" because a grant had lapsed and they were dormant in the ACP work for a while and now bringing that back with new partners.  All of us had lots to share and lots to gain from each other's experience.  I was able to talk through some things I found to be working well and to also get some new ideas from the managers just starting out.  For example, we have a ParaProfessional prep program going and although I was not there for that particular industry, I did learn some new ideas about mentorships and partnerships I had not thought about for ParaPro.  

Our ACP partnership also decided to host some student focus groups last year - although this was not part of my ACP goal work, it was valuable and it was really wonderful to see our entire ACP Partnership working towards continuous improvement.  It seems like announcing  my commitment to participation in the cohort made our partnership look at other things we could do to gather data and information about our effectiveness.  It set an example of striving to be better and it motivated us to try new things.

Everyone can benefit from a cohort like this - regardless of where you are at with your programming - because as we all know, things can be going really well for a while and then when partners change or laws change we find ourselves "starting over" or "revamping" things we have been doing.  There is also turnover in staff throughout the system and the new employees need to be brought up to speed.  Sometimes stepping back and reflecting seems impossible when you are in the thick of programming, but it is worthwhile to stop - step back - and look at what you are doing and why you are doing it that way. 

Overall it was very rewarding for me in many ways -  to help another person who is starting out - to discuss problems or issues as they arise in the middle - and to share successes and new ideas.  You can save a big headache by learning from others experience and I love to share the experience with others.


Hi, Karen -

Thanks for your work, and willingness to share your experience as a member of the cohort.  I like that you pointed out that there were different levels of experience, while also highlighting how everyone - despite their experience - was committed to continuous improvement.  Mindsets like this are what we need to celebrate, and support, through mindful PD opportunities like what you have in Minnesota.  I hope the relationship you formed as a result of your participation will continue to support new and existing opportunities for Minnesotans. 


Mike Cruse

Greetings from Winona, MN!

I am one of the ABE coordinators who is just beginning our important work in ACP.  There are so many "take-aways" from this cohort.  First off, the focused attention on all the required components of ACP programming helps each respective program think of ways to accomplish their goals in regards to ACP.  What I am currently finding even more important are the ideas and discussions that occurred between cohort participants.  With all of the relationships needed to make an ACP program successful, there is certainly no "one-size-fits-all" way of establishing these relationships.  Knowing what more experienced and successful programs have done and hearing similar struggles from less experienced programs has given me the skills and knowledge needed to navigate through all the unforeseen challenges that arise in this work.  

Thank you!

Chris Dahlke

Hi, Chris -

Thanks for sharing what you're experiencing as part of the cohort team.  It sounds like there are a lot of take-aways to be had for you and others.  I hope you'll keep sharing with us what you're discovering as part of this process.


Mike Cruse

Greetings! I am the Career Pathways Coordinator for Metro South ABE in Bloomington, MN. My director Kellie McGowan and I were participants in the 2017-18 MN Adult Career Pathways ABE Administrator Cohort. Before we began this cohort, we thought our Career Pathways program was pretty established with several classes doing fairly well, but through participation in the cohort, we discovered that we needed to strengthen three important areas in developing career pathways.

The first thing was to strengthen our relationship with our local Workforce Center (WFC). I did this by attending several events at the WFC  to understand what the WFC services/events were and network with key people there. We developed quarterly meetings with another local ABE and the WFC that included creating and sharing a partnership workflow document that was essentially our partnership action plan with dates and events for ABE and WFC members to attend each other's events- promoting each other's programs and using resources more efficiently. The ACP cohort also helped us realize that we could create an ABE-WFC healthcare advisory council with help from the WFC. There is a strong demand for healthcare employees and strong demand from our students here for healthcare type training classes. We have had two productive meetings thus far to understand employer needs/processes and thus share resources to strengthen our career pathways healthcare classes. We look forward to our WFC-ABE  partnership fall meeting to plan the new year's workflow plan including more healthcare advisory council meetings.

The second area was strengthening retention in our classes. Many of our students have other barriers to attending class. We used our Opportunity (Career) Navigator to join me when I start recruiting for classes so that students know she is there to help problem solve attendance barriers and refer to other resources if needed. We also "tabled" in the hall to be more accessible to students' questions.

Finally, we were able to strengthen our relationships with employers through our healthcare advisory council and by hosting our first ever large career fair in the spring. We began to keep a spreadsheet with employer contact and other info to access for students wanting jobs and to get speakers for CP classes.

In sum, the ACP cohort led by Liz Andress was very ambitious and professional. I felt that we were able to be very productive because we were held accountable through SMART goals, sharing ideas, getting support from our peers (buddy ABE's), and phone check-ins from Liz (and Julie). The hybrid format of 1-2  in-person cohort meetings with an online platform (resources, assignments, discussions) was ideal. I am proud of ATLAS (MN- ABE) and what they do to move us forward in Adult Career Pathways. 

Hi, Alison - 

Thanks you for sharing more about your experience as part of last year's cohort.  I respect you and your colleagues' willingness to reflect on your program, and commit to continuous improvement.  That type of reflective practice is something that we all need to engage in as we work to advance our career pathways programs.  One tool that can help programs begin that practice is the Career Pathways Checklist, which is available for download from the LINCS Resource Collection.  It serves as a companion to the Career Pathways Toolkit, which provides additional guidance to support both new and established programs in developing exemplary programs.

Keep up your great work, and please continue sharing your successes with us.


Mike Cruse

My name is Emily Watts, and I serve as the Program Coordinator for Osseo Area Schools Adult Basic Education Program in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.  The opportunity to participate in the 2017-2018 ACP Cohort has changed how I approach my ACP work in at least three ways that I can readily identify:

1.  The structured programming objectives "forced" (in the very best way!) me to collaborate in a focused and meaningful way with my professional peers to expand my knowledge base.  I created new relationships that I can bounce ideas off of, get support from, and offer suggestions.  I also found that sometimes people downplay their work or their ideas as "small" or "easy", but this opportunity created space for us to share those ideas organically with each other, and created impact that was much larger than might be expected.  There is always someone out there doing good work that you can learn from!

2.  The project allowed me to bring to the table a set of tools to help focus and structure the conversation with our project partners around a number of topics, including recruitment and employer engagement in a new way.  One significant impact of this work is how we do outreach and program promotion.  We historically had a scattershot approach to recruitment, sending out fliers and emails to partners in a blanket or "the more the better" approach that was mostly passive; now our recruitment is much more intentional, and we are seeing results!  It might feel different, since we are not "reaching out" to as many people, but the people we are reaching out to engage at higher rates.

3.  The project also really helped reinforce the idea that it is never time to give up.  An idea or approach that might not get off the ground now may in the future.  Keep going to meetings, keep in touch through emails and events, and create/attend opportunities for less "project driven" engagement opportunities with partners.  This allows your relationships to develop in deeper and more meaningful ways, and allows ACP models with WIOA partners and employers to develop in deeper, and hopefully more permanent, ways.

Hi, Emily -

Thanks for sharing your experience and lessons learned as a member of last year's cohort.  I really appreciate what you said about "people downplay(ing) their work or their ideas as "small" or "easy", but this opportunity created space for us to share those ideas organically with each other, and created impact that was much larger than might be expected".  This is so very true in my experience. It takes collective action many time to see the true value of all of these 'little' parts.

I hope you continue to be involved with your cohort members, and continue supporting each others' work, and even mentoring the next generation of pathways stakeholders in MN.


Mike Cruse 

My name is Penny Jahnke and I am the coordinator for the Albert Lea Adult Learning Center (which by the way we had snow on the ground this morning).  My colleagues have already expressed what a valuable professional development experience this cohort provided.  I couldn't agree more.   I would like to add one thing I learned.  In the past, we would come up with a class that we thought was needed, hire a teacher, find or develop curriculum, send out a flyer, start the class and hope it was successful. Now, as we plan an ACP program there is much more intent and purpose.  There is a process and a checklist we follow.  We understand what a fully-realized Adult Career Pathway program should look like.   We know we will still make mistakes, but that is okay because we will learn and grow from them.

Hi, Penny -

Thanks for echoing your colleagues' experience as part of last year's cohort.  I wonder if you would be able to share more about the process and checklist you followed?  These resources can be incredibly helpful when programs are ready to engage in self-reflective practices to guide continuous improvement.


Mike Cruse