Building Strong Systems

Why This Tool?

Career pathways offer people routes to skilled professions in local industries and support them along the way. California is bustling with initiatives and interest in this approach.

About the project

This interactive tool is intended to help practitioners, policymakers, and funders gain new understanding and make connections that enable them to strengthen, scale, and sustain existing career pathways systems, and to create new systems.

As the set of players, investments, and activities associated with career pathways grows, The James Irvine Foundation commissioned CLASP to assemble information on significant initiatives underway. Throughout 2015 and 2016, CLASP reviewed websites and charter documents for more than 50 initiatives, conducted dozens of interviews with initiative leaders, and compiled the initiative descriptions featured in this tool.

To begin, CLASP assessed the core career pathways components or criteria incorporated in major federal and California-specific federal career pathways models and legislation, and synthesized these ingredients into a set of six elements that compose high quality systems of career pathways.

Based on the intent and founding purpose of each initiative, CLASP then charted the intensity of resources and/or activity associated with each element, and assigned a rating using a four-part scale illustrated with use of color. No color fill signifies that the element is not present in the initiative being reported, a small color fill indicates some degree of intensity, the next level of fill indicates moderate intensity, and a full color fill indicates high intensity.





Each initiative included in this tool brings one or more elements that contribute to career pathways. By viewing the elements across initiatives, users of this tool can explore ways that a diverse set of 50+ initiatives and initiative intents can be combined and leveraged to create powerful career pathways systems.

To help users consider new possibilities, CLASP stated potential implementation opportunities as part of each initiative profile.

About the players

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) advocates for public policies and programs at the federal, state, and local levels that reduce poverty, help low-income people become economically self-sufficient, and create ladders to opportunity for all.

Contact CLASP at

The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful, and inclusive society. The Foundation’s grantmaking focuses on expanding economic and political opportunity for families and young adults who are working but struggling with poverty.

About the six-element structure

The six elements in a comprehensive pathways system were identified by CLASP based on review of systemic career pathways efforts and legislation. 

Within the secondary and postsecondary education systems, California’s Linked Learning core components expand on the framework embedded in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Programs of Study/Rigorous Programs of Study. The 2019 reauthorization, Perkins V, includes the career pathway program definition directly aligned with the definition found in the public workforce development system governed by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and within the Higher Education Act Ability to Benefit provision. This shared  federal definition of career pathway demonstrates the need to align with regional economic needs and supportive services. 

Efforts like the California WIOA Implementation Work Group provide guidance on the implementation of such federal legislation. This legislation also lays the groundwork for state initiatives such as the California Board of Governor’s Task Force on Workforce and the California Workforce Development Board Strategic Plan to further activities that support a strong economy. 

The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways and the Federal Interagency Career Pathway Toolkit provide an even broader scope of engagement, bringing safety net systems and community development agencies into the mix. 

The Pathways to Prosperity Network brings a STEM-focused redesign effort to grade 9-14 pathway initiatives. 

CLASP’s analysis provides a look at the shared skeleton of these systems which, leveraged together, can support scale and dynamic sustainability of effective strategies between career pathway partners.

Download the analysis that maps the ingredients of these efforts to the six elements of a comprehensive career pathways system as described in this tool.