A recent trend in education and workforce development involves searching for better ways to align the skills of graduates with jobs that employers need to fill. Career pathways—course sequences in high school and sometimes college that lead to specific degrees or credentials—are among the leading methods for preparing students for employment in a variety of fields.
School systems across the United States have been experimenting with career pathways, but to date, leaders in education have had little data available to measure the programs’ success. To help identify the most effective ideas and practices, JPMorgan Chase created New Skills for Youth, a multistate, multiyear initiative aimed at increasing the number of students who complete career pathways and finding transformational approaches to increase students’ career readiness.
In 2016, New Skills for Youth awarded grants to 25 state education systems that were actively planning to strengthen career readiness and pathways. Ten of these continued to the initiative’s second phase in 2017. RTI has been chosen to evaluate the results of phase two, in which the 10 states received grants of up to $2 million each to implement their plans over three years.
Measuring the Results of States’ Creative Approaches to Career Pathways
Each state participating in New Skills for Youth is finding its own solutions to the multifaceted issue of career preparation. Some are expanding existing career pathway systems, but others are new to the concept. Many are exploring ways to create career pathways for students who have not traditionally sought out a career-technical education. All are seeking to understand the high-skill, high-demand jobs that will provide the best prospects for students and to build meaningful partnerships across state agencies and among K-12 schools, postsecondary institutions, and employers.
Our role as a third-party evaluator is to monitor student outcomes and changes in education systems over time, while also helping states expand the data systems that allow them to analyze their own results. We began by collecting baseline data from state education data systems so that we can measure the outcomes of career pathways programs over the next three years. Over time, we will examine the effect of these programs on the education system and the students who participate.
As experts in the field of career and technical education and workforce development, we are in a strong position to help New Skills for Youth zero in on the most effective career pathways practices. Our relevant experience includes helping states and educational institutions at all levels define important career skills, promote courses of study that lead to useful credentials for job seekers, and use reporting systems to measure performance. We have also conducted surveys and evaluations with numerous educational institutions at all levels, developing a thorough understanding of the education landscape in the United States.
Helping Schools Across the Nation Expand Effective Career Programs
The career pathways concept has been gaining momentum among educators, employers, and corporate funders such as JPMorgan Chase. New Skills for Youth builds on that shared enthusiasm, offering a way to measure outcomes and identify promising ideas.
Our evaluations, in addition to serving the needs of the New Skills for Youth competition, will provide the education community with a trove of high-quality data to inform the next phase of career and technical programs. States will be able to gather evidence on effective career pathways practices, thus meeting the challenge of adapting their programs to future needs. Ultimately, alignment between schools and the labor force will result in greater opportunities for the nation’s graduates.