Mapping Career Pathways

The Basic Idea:

Map out paths families can follow to advance in a career and gain better jobs in their area.

How it works:

  • Identify fields in your region offering good jobs with advancement opportunities.
  • Figure out the specific progression of jobs for each field, starting at the most basic and progressing to the most advanced. There may be several forks in the path leading to different opportunities. (A simpler path might be from Certified Nursing Assistant to Licensed Practical Nurse to Registered Nurse to Nurse Practitioner.)
  • Collect information about the working conditions and salary ranges typically offered for each job on the path.
  • Determine the skills needed for each level and identify where in your region someone can receive the training needed—as well as the time training will take.
  • Partner with trainers, education and employers to make sure that training is offered for each step in the path and that each step flows into the next.
  • When possible and needed, create shortcuts for workers by encouraging agreements between institutions stipulating that they will accept each other’s coursework and credit – or by creating “bridge” courses that smooth the path.
  • Chart out the path in an easy-to-understand form and share with families trying to get ahead!
  • (Optional) Help families overcome barriers like child care, tuition, and transportation.

Who Does It:

Individual organizations or partnerships including:

  • Educational institutions
  • Human services agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Workforce development organization and One-Stop Career Centers


  • It provides a handy, easily understood way for workers and students to learn about and see career options—especially when the pathway is turned into a visual chart. It can be motivational.
  • Low-income family members can often qualify for government and charitable scholarship funds that cover many class costs.
  • Creating the map can help identify gaps in the training available in your community—or a step on the path that may be hard for a worker to take, allowing your community to take corrective action.


  • Some information you collect can become dated—such as salaries for specific positions or course offerings—so regular updating is in order.

Simplicity Index

  • Mixed Basket of Fruits and Nuts. The basic mapping of career pathways can be readily be done by an intern or as a class project—linking up the steps along the path and building partnerships to make the most of the pathways can take lots of time and resources.

Examples and Resources

Southern Good Faith Fund (Arkansas) has produced excellent career pathways in five different industries for rural and small town workers in its region.

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RuFES is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.
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