Illinois Career Pathways Symposium 2018

by Jason Keist / Aug 9, 2018

The Illinois Career Pathways Symposium was held at the Wyndham City Centre in Springfield, Illinois, on July 12. The Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support hosted the event to bring together educators, community organizations, and other stakeholders who play collaborative roles in supporting learners in accessing and obtaining valuable education and workforce-relevant training and credentials through Illinois career pathways.

Whitney Young, Director for Career and Technical Education (CTE) at the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), began the symposium by stressing the importance of linking learners to relevant, high quality workforce preparation programs that equip them for success in a 21st century economy. According to the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, career pathways connect myriad local and regional/state-level education and workforce services to create comprehensive system-wide change efforts to successfully train, support, and transition program participants while they earn marketable credentials. Career pathways include three distinct features: well-connected and transparent education, multiple entry points, and multiple exit points. The aforementioned features work to aid learners in meeting their educational and professional goals, which simultaneously work to alleviate poverty.

The term “careers pathways” was operationalized and codified through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), signed into law by President Barack Obama. The definition sets out clear expectations of all partners and stakeholders throughout participating career pathways programs while providing a unifying template that fosters interdependence and collaboration. The full definition of “career pathways” can be found in SEC. 3. Definitions. of WIOA (H.R.803)

While WIOA legislation sets the framework for career pathways programs, the goal is for states to construct comprehensive systems that are efficient and sustainable. The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways identified four additional criteria recommendations for partners constructing collaborative career pathways systems. These criteria include, “a shared vision, a commitment of resources, a consideration of policy, and the use of data and shared measures.”

Collaboration was a common theme throughout the symposium, as every speaker recognized the importance of interdependence among program partners. While Illinois may be “new to the game” of career pathway systems, Wisconsin has constructed a robust career pathway system by “credentialing and building better ladders and lattices for Wisconsin’s current and future workforce, and cultivating a robust talent pipeline for employers.”

Scott DuBenske, Education Director – Career Transition/Workforce Development for the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), discussed how WTCS is using funds provided by their ACT2 grant through the Department of Labor to better align and scale career pathways.  Additionally, Mr. DuBenske stressed the importance of sector partnerships that align programs with industry needs, providing participants with industry-approved credentials to increase their chances of employment after completing their program of study.

Lisa Jones, from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, presented on the Illinois WIOA Unified State Plan to create career pathways designed to support in-school and out-of-school youth (“Opportunity Youth”). Target groups include early school leavers, those in (or who recently aged out of) foster care, students diagnosed with a disability, and English language learners. WIOA youth-centered program elements focus on areas like leadership development, mentoring, financial literacy, and entrepreneurial skill development. Ms. Jones recommended attendees apply for FY18 funding for pathways projects that intersect work-based learning, education, and training, as well as foundation skills.

Sarah Labadie, Senior Policy Associate at Women Employed, spoke of the work being done by the Pathways to Careers Network (The Network), which aims to strengthen literacy skills for adult learners while supporting them in actualizing their career and educational goals. The Network “provides information on policies and programs that promote successful transitions from basic skill programs into college and career paths, facilitates connections to share ideas and strategies, and advances a policy agenda to ensure that more adults throughout Illinois complete college and career programs” (Pathways). Of great interest is the freely downloadable curriculum developed by The Network that focuses on career development and bridge programming for adults with limited literacy skills.

Gina Coronna, Director of Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network, provided information on the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act (PWR) of 2016 and how student-based competency frameworks can work to prepare Illinois high school graduates for success in college and/or the world of work. Major elements of PWR implementation include competency-based learning systems, college and career pathways endorsements, transitional math, and Illinois PaCE postsecondary and career expectations. Furthermore, this framework offers graduating students opportunities to earn college and career pathways endorsements within health sciences and technology, information technology, and arts and communications, to name but a few sectors included.

Lastly, Tim Harmon of Workforce Enterprise Services Inc. presented on the nuances of measuring career pathways outcomes and performances and recommended that pathways partners capture students’ progress through programs of study (ex: LPN certification) as well as students’ access to specialized interventions such as transportation, child care assistance, and career coaching. Additionally, Mr. Harmon discussed how data could provide insight into existing or potential equity gaps. To address issues in student access and success, it is recommended for pathway partners to a) collect, share, and use evidence to identify and eliminate barriers to participant access and success; b) include shared qualitative and quantitative evaluation of participant outcomes, with a focus on equity of access and services across participant groups; c) disaggregate participant-level data to identify inequities in performance among participant groups and improve the outcomes of different participant groups; and d) include shared qualitative and quantitative evaluation of effectiveness in serving employers (the business community) in order to inform strategies for improvement.