What Can the Rest of the World Teach Us about Career Pathways?

April 3rd, 2023

Category: Postsecondary Success

Back in 2014, I went to Switzerland and met a young man with a big smile and a ponytail named Luke Rhine. He was a new employee at the Delaware DOE and who knew at the time that that trip would be so catalytic in helping the state build out a new effort that we collectively called, “career pathways.”

Today, we are at a new pivot point and I’m excited to exercise a couple of Rodel’s core values—“listening” and “learning”—by going out and seeing what we can learn from some of the world’s leading-edge countries.

Back then, we were there to learn about the Swiss VET (Vocational Education and Training) system. Mark Stellini, a Delaware employer and school board member, and about 25 other education leaders from around the U.S., joined us. That trip, coupled with trips to Germany and Singapore, gave our team a glimpse of some of the best systems in the world in terms of helping young people transition from high school into a career.

The timing was good in that we were also in the midst of working with the Vision Coalition leadership team in engaging some 4,000 Delawareans in the creation of Student Success 2025, a 10-year plan for world-class schools. As a part of that work, we built an international advisory group that included amazing leaders from Singapore, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and France, chaired by Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff to former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Andreas Schleicher, the head of the Education and Skills group at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), was an important member of that group in that he brought a deep knowledge of what was happening to improve public education globally.

I kept in touch with Andreas, and this spring, through the generosity of Rodel’s board and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, I plan to take some time to learn about another mix of countries, in partnership with the OECD, to deepen our understanding of how to help our young people “launch.” Here’s a link to a synopsis of the project, but in short, from April 7 to July 7 of this year, I will be “on loan” to the OECD, learning about where we are as a nation on career pathways and getting a chance to see firsthand what’s working in several other countries.

This project builds on the first-of-its-kind longitudinal analyses by the OECD that shows “career pathways,” broadly defined, can routinely be associated with better employment outcomes for youth. This new project will mark the first time that a comparative international study has been attempted.

Over the course of the next three months, I’ll be working with my team at Rodel, the OECD, and Robert Schwartz at Harvard, to better understand what’s happening in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, and here in the U.S. These countries are not only doing some leading-edge work, but their governance models are more similar to the decentralized context that American policymakers find themselves in, so the lessons learned might be more transferable. Later this year, we’ll share what we learn in some publications, podcasts, and webinars.

A decade after that first trip, Delaware and the U.S. are at another important moment. In Delaware, we launched Pathways 2.0 in 2021 and by 2024, we’re hoping to expand our work into the middle grades, deepen the work in our vocational schools, engage 80 percent or 32,000 of our high schoolers (from 27 back in 2014), and strengthen our collaboration with employers through new sector partnerships like the Tech Council of Delaware. See here for a snapshot of where that works stands today.

And as I discuss in Pathways’ American Moment, there are amazing pockets of excellence throughout the U.S. and exciting efforts, like Launch, looking to accelerate innovation and impact across states. This broad body of work is supported by leadership from the top-down (see U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s comments), and even in this polarized political world, this is one of the few things that leaders in red states and blue can agree on from the bottom up.

In parallel, what we call “pathways” are exploding all over the world. Just like in the U.S., countries often have more jobs than job seekers. With billions of new dollars going into green jobs and infrastructure (for which training pipelines are often not yet built), the competing pressures of climate change, the need to build a more diverse workforce, and an economic landscape that seems to shift hourly, the need to rethink how we create more seamless connections among school and work (what Jobs for the Future describes as “the Big Blur”), has become more important than ever.

Moreover, it’s important to step back and acknowledge that the world our young people are entering today is far more uncertain, volatile, and polarized than it was in 2014. It is our collective responsibility to do our best to help them navigate and thrive in this new world. My hope is that, in a modest way, this project contributes to that effort.

I look forward to bringing these findings back to Delaware and continuing to learn from and with our partners from across the country and overseas.

If you want to keep tabs on this project, listen to podcasts from the road, weigh in on what’s working here, or raise a question about what you want to learn from these other countries, please send a note to info@rodelde.org and we’ll keep you in the loop.

Note: During this time out of the office, I’ll be keeping in touch with my team weekly, but won’t be responding to most emails. Nancy Millard (nmillard@rodelde.org) on our team will be able to reach me in the event of an emergency or to connect to the appropriate person on our team to follow up, but otherwise,  Madeleine Bayard will be leading our work on policy, advocacy and communications, Mark Baxter will continue to lead our work on pathways and diversifying the teacher workforce, and Nancy will be my overall point of contact and manage our operations.

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Paul Herdman




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