A Deep Dive Into the 6 Elements of the Career Pathways Toolkit

Starting April 5, 2021, this discussion thread will be used for A Deep Dive Into the 6 Elements of the Career Pathways Toolkit. We will have a new guest and new questions to explore each week. A full list of guests will be released in this discussion thread on Friday, April 2, 2021.

I encourage members of the community to review the toolkit over the next few weeks and bring questions and comments to this discussion thread during April and May. 


Hi. This sounds great. I look forward to sharing the COABE Hackathon Career Pathway Project and the numerous resources and links that could be useful to students, teachers, and administrators. Thanks for opening this up for discussion. Jeff A

Starting on Monday, April 5, 2021 our special guest, Emily Lesh, will spend the week with us as we dive into element 1 of the Career Pathways Toolkit- Build Cross-Agency Partnerships and Clarify Roles. 

Please check out Emily's bio below and join her in conversation HERE from April 5th-9th. 

Emily Lesh, Founder of Collaborative Solutions, is a social entrepreneur and change maker. She has over 20 years of experience leading people and groups through processes to achieve big visions, with concrete results. Some highlights of her work include:

  • Coached over a dozen regional teams of CEOs, community non-profit leaders, and government agencies in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, through the launch of community-supported, industry-led partnerships that resulted in overall community and economic prosperity.

  • Advised and facilitated state governments through processes to foster interagency alignment across education, workforce development, and economic development systems in Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. 

  • Developed and delivered customized training (in-person and virtual) for diverse groups of state and local leaders from workforce development, education, economic development agencies, and organizations in nine states. 

  • Launched the Next Generation Sector Partnership community of practice with a team of independent consultants who developed and scaled the model for building business-led, and community-supported partnerships for collective impact.  

  • Curated and executed several national in-person and virtual convenings, including event project management, agenda design, and delivery of Next Gen Sector Partnership trainings for a national audience of over 400.

Below are the questions Emily will address this week, but please feel free to ask additional questions.


Using WIOA’s definition of a career pathway:

"The term “career pathway” means a combination of rigorous and high-quality education, training, and other services that— (A) aligns with the skill needs of industries in the economy of the State or regional economy involved; (B) prepares an individual to be successful in any of a full range of secondary of postsecondary education options, including apprenticeships registered under the Act of August 16, 1937; (C) includes counseling to support an individual in achieving the individual’s education and career goals; (D) includes, as appropriate, education offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster; (E) organizes education, training, and other services to meet the particular needs of an individual in a manner that accelerates the educational and career advancement of the individual to the extent practicable; (F) enables an individual to attain a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent, and at least one recognized postsecondary credential; and (G) helps an individual enter or advance within a specific occupation or occupational cluster."

Which part of the definition have programs needed the most support implementing?


What advice would you give to programs when first trying to establish a “Shared Vision, Mission, Goals, and Strategies”?


What are some ways to keep agency partnerships strong when there is staff turnover?


Six Tips

  1. Resist the urge to overcomplicate the vision! Start with your overall vision and always keep your desired outcomes in mind. For instance, your vision might be to establish industry sector-based career pathways in your region. 
  2. Goals and strategies are the heart of your partnership.  This is how you will achieve your mission and vision!
  3. Keep this step simple! It is important to take the time (but not too much time) to come to a joint agreement on what you want to achieve (vision),  why you are doing this or purpose (mission),  and how you will get there (your goals and strategies).
  4. Remember you are building a fluid partnership, not an organization.
  5. Remember the purpose of defining a shared vision, mission, goals, and strategies is to keep your partnership on the same page, on task, and accountable to one another and your partnership. 
  6. Adjust as you go! You will find that your goals and strategies will and should shift over time. Once you've accomplished a goal, celebrate your success, reflect on lessons learned, and evaluate where you need to go next. Don't delay in setting your next goals. Your vision and mission will not likely adjust as often, but they can as your partnership evolves. 

Do any of these tips resonate with you? What has worked for you when establishing a shared vision, mission, goals, and strategies? 

Question: Which part of the definition have programs needed the most support implementing?

There are two types of partnerships at the core of the WIOA career pathway definition: Public-private and cross-agency partnerships. In my experience, building valuable and long-lasting partnerships is the hardest part of the WIOA definition in practice. 


A single education, training, or service provider cannot, on their own, ensure that students receive a postsecondary credential and advance within a job or occupational cluster. They must rely on partnerships with businesses, as well as other education and training providers. This type of partnership is a new way of working for many! Learn more about the role of public-private partnerships and cross-agency partnerships in putting the WIOA definition of career pathways into practice below. 


Public-Private Partnerships

The alignment of education, training, and services with the skill and expertise needs of businesses (employers) in a region happens when education and training programs have deep and meaningful relationships with employers. Ideally, multiple firms from the same sector (i.e., manufacturing or tech) are coming together with education, training, and workforce regularly to: 

  1. Define their current and future skill needs and gaps, 
  2. Identify industry trends, 
  3. Discuss workforce needs, and 
  4. Take joint action to fill these needs. 


Lasting public-private partnerships take commitment from businesses as well as education, training, and workforce development partners. All partners must agree to the purpose of continually coming together and have an agreed-upon structure (it doesn't have to be too formal) to support their efforts. Effective public-private partnerships are continuously taking action and resulting in solid outcomes for the community and regional economy. The value and worth of public-private partnerships are contagious. 


Cross-Agency Partnerships (Public-Public)

Simultaneously, multiple education, training, and other workforce development programs in the community must align services and educational options from courses to credentials and degrees along pathways. It is up to public partners to work together and ensure that students and job seekers have opportunities to advance along educational and occupational paths that align with the regional economy's demands. I find that alignment across education and training programs is often the most complex and challenging for communities. 


Bottom line: Partnership is at the heart of the WIOA Career Pathway definition and requires the public and private sectors to work outside of traditional programmatic and organizational silos. 


What is your experience with public-private partnerships? Public-public partnerships? What successes have you experienced? how about stumbling blocks? One thing is for sure, partnerships take time, dedication, and hard work.  


Tune in tomorrow for advice on first establishing a “Shared Vision, Mission, Goals, and Strategies”. 


I know of some programs that came together in the past to do career pathway work to support individuals who have been touched by the justice system and several of the key people at the table moved onto other jobs or organizations and the partnership really struggled to stay afloat. One part of creating goals and strategies could be to proactively address how the partnership might continue thrive if there is a change in people/partners. 

I am curious to hear how other people have dealt with staff turnover both proactively and reactively as it relates to both public-private partnerships and public-public cross-agency partnerships.


As we look at the different types of partnerships, I wonder if you could speak to the various delivery methods for services. In Illinois, while we have many community and faith based organizations, along with local school districts, a majority of our programs are within community colleges. 

This makes the transition to postsecondary education and career pathway systems a bit easier to implement. I'm not as familiar with these processes for states and programs that come from workforce boards or even libraries. 

Do you see a difference in partnership development and success based on if a program is a community college, library, workplace, or other? 

I'd love to hear how programs approach partnerships. 
Kathy Tracey


Great question, Kathy! I, too, am curious about what others have experienced. 


In the meantime I'l share my observations. I have found that successful partnerships are convened and/or initiated by all types of agencies and organizations ranging from Workforce Boards, Community Colleges, non-profit organizations, School Districts, economic development organizations, human service organizations, and more. Partnerships work best when all organizations and entities involved are able to identify common interests and goals (i.e. keeping students on pathways to careers) and act on behalf of the partnership. One pitfall can be organizational "ownership" of the partnership vs. focusing on common interests and goals.

I'd love to learn what others have experienced too. 

This week we will dive into identifying industry sectors and engaging employers. Our special Guest is William Durden.

William Durden is the Director of Basic Education for Adults (BEdA) with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, overseeing all adult basic education, English language acquisition, high school completion, and I-BEST programming in the state’s community and technical colleges, Title II-funded Community Based Organizations, and Corrections Education programs. William’s passion is to help create greater social and economic justice for all Washington state residents by integrating adult education programming with college and career pathways that lead to fulfilling careers and further educational opportunities. A former I-BEST instructor, William holds his MA and BA degrees in English studies.


Please add questions related to Element 2 of the Career Pathways Toolkit to this thread for William and other members of the community to answer. 

Will will start of our discussion by addressing this question:

Page 35 of the toolkit shares some roles employers can play in program development. Which of these have you been successful in your state or local area? 


What are some roles employers can play in program development?

I am answering this question from a state perspective - with the goal of getting you to think about your state or local area and spur more dialogue and idea-sharing!

First, please check out the graphic on page 35 of the Career Pathways Toolkit. Now, while we have had success with all of the different roles identified in the graphic, here are a few specifics areas where our I-BEST model in WA state has really made some breakthroughs:

  • Make real, industry-based projects

Employers participate in our I-BEST programs through the program advisory boards that help govern the workforce (or training "T") element of the program. Employers help us look at the curriculum and make sure that the activities we offer in I-BEST are relevant to the industry.

  • Affirm the set of foundational skills, knowledge, and abilities

In Washington state we use the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) to help explain to employers what it is we "do" in our Basic Education for Adults (BEdA) programs. This is also really helpful in collaborating with our training partners, so they know what we bring to the table!

  • Affirm the required certificates and credentials

Employers really drive this bullet point - we embed studying and testing for the needed certificates and credentials into the program so that I-BEST completers have what it takes to be competitive in the job market.

  • Help design education and training programs

I-BEST is a model for what an integrated education and training (IET) program can look like. Employers may not have that much time to spend on program design so it can be helpful to show up with an evidence-based model that is more implementation-ready than designing something from scratch.

  • Assist in instruction

I-BEST is an instruction-led model; it is really about faculty coming together to team-teach both the education (E) and training (T) components of the program. This is my favorite part of the I-BEST model because it really leverages the expertise of our adult education faculty!

  • Hire completers

  Word-of-mouth is as important as ever. We've heard many stories over the years of employers hiring I-BEST completers because they know they are getting a quality worker out of the program.

I'd love to hear your experiences working with I-BEST or I-BEST-like models, and what other thoughts and questions you have about employer engagement in career pathway design!

Thank you Will for bringing up the importance of affirming certifications and credentials with employers early on in the planning stage. A few years ago in Pennsylvania, we did career pathway mapping with a manufacturer of glass products.  They had both apprenticeship and non-apprenticeship pathway options for their employees. Title I and Title II providers sat down with the employer to confirm the certifications, credentials, and skills needed to enter employment and progress through to different occupations. The final career maps, which clearly stated which credentials and certificates where required for each occupation, provided a great visual for career counselors, career navigators, teachers, and the employer to use with prospective and current employees. 

Hi William and all, 

I am very curious to consider how the new National Reporting System (NRS) measurable skills gains options available for workplace literacy and integrated education and training programs and how these may connect to the Career Pathways Toolkit.

I'm looking forward to any insight and ideas. 

Kathy Tracey

Fantastic question Kathy! We are very eager to implement the new MSG options in WA state - although we haven't officially rolled out the new changes yet. I'll take a minute to review the high points of how we're approaching their implementation and why we're so excited!

  • MSG by postsecondary transcript

This msg will work great for IET programs where students earn postsecondary credit, especially if the msg can be measured through data matching. In WA state, where all our I-BEST programs earn college credit, this will be an excellent option.

  • MSG by workplace milestone progress

I'm personally excited to see how this will incent and support incumbent worker programs. That is not the bulk of our IET programming currently but it's a huge area for future expansion. I think especially speaking to the current recommendation from the Career Pathways Toolkit that we are discussing, this MSG has the greatest potential to honor employer goals for the program. It's important that employers see their goals at the heart of their IET, as opposed to education goals that may not seem clear to the employer as being fundamental to their goals. This msg is contextualized measurement!

  • MSG by skills or training completion

Most I-BEST programs conclude with some kind of skills or training credential, as required by the industry or regional employers. Again, this new MSG should be a real boost to measuring effectiveness in an IET program and rewarding employer/industry input.

I would love to hear how else programs are approaching the new MSGs and incorporating them into their IETs.


I work with men and women who face the challenges of a criminal history and we work hard to guide our students to high demand industry sectors for employment. However, I have come to recognize that if we can help train our students and give them skill sets that those employers truly need, they may have a far better chance of not only getting the job, keeping it, but being successful and advancing. Can you share any insights you might have on engaging employers from day one in the educational and skills training process? Thanks

Thanks, Jeffrey, for bringing the men and women you serve into this conversation. You ask an excellent question. I think we are still learning how to engage employers from the beginning with a corrections background in mind; we haven't done enough work in that space, although I'm sure some good examples exist! As you suggest, building IETs in the corrections facility is a key first step of increasing the student's chances of success. Developing a pipeline to regional employers seems like a next level design principle, and one that needs some innovation!

I'm really curious to see what we learn from the projects that emerge from OCTAE's Integrating Education and Training (IET) in Corrections project.

Does anyone else on this thread have any experience on Jeff's question that they can share?


In the Minds that Move Us challenge, Team Woksape (led by Stephanie Rittberger from the Black Hills Special Services Cooperative- Career Learning Center of the Black Hills) proposed an extremely unique approach - and they trained employers on the needs of the students. 

They ensured local employers were trauma-aware, as their project focused on historical trauma and trauma-informed practices). What I found increadibly unique about this approach is that by educating employers on the unique needs of their employees, there was improved communication and expectations. 

We often ask a lot of our students to become 'better' employees. Perhaps we need to shift this focus a bit and help our employers understand the barriers and needs of their students? 

Kathy Tracey