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Data Systems That Connect Learning to Work Pathways

STRATEGY: Connect students to high school learning experiences that expose workforce pathways of potential interest (e.g., internships, early-college programs, career and technical education certification, military, etc.).

The global economic and labor environment is vastly different today, even compared to what it was ten years ago, and traditional high school learning environments continue to be based on models of instruction that are antiquated and ineffective for learners moving into modern society. More than ever before, learners need to be able to synthesize and integrate their content and skills while also engaging in experiences that are both relevant and authentic to their lives and futures. Developing relationships with, and connections to, authentic, applicable, and current and future workforce pathways is a necessity for high school learners to ensure they are even more proficient and prepared for an unpredictable and shifting workforce environment.


Connecting students to high school learning experiences that expose workforce pathways of potential interest requires schools to do the following:

1. Engage with and enlist community industry partners as curriculum and instruction voices in all content areas and programs, including (but not limited to)

a. identifying industry sectors that are important to the state’s economy;

b. bringing in local industry partners to support authentic integration of ideas, skills, and content; and

c. developing a space in the school for community partners, industry partners, school members, and others to identify local problems/needs and design collaborative and integrated solutions.

2. Ensure that foundational courses, programs, and pathways develop knowledge and skills that are specific and needed for entry-level work within local, regional, national, and global industries/professions.

3. Ensure that career readiness indicators are embedded components of high school graduation requirements and scholarship criteria.

First Steps to Consider

Major curricular, instructional, and structural changes can be highly disruptive and take a tremendous amount of time and effort. Important first steps include the following:

  • Identifying strengths and struggles of past graduates to determine ‘what works’ in local schools, and what needs more support, by contacting past graduates, postsecondary institutions, and/or employers. This is critical because understanding the strengths and struggles of the graduates themselves helps the school reflect and provides a starting point from which to work internally.
  • Identifying needs of the local community and industry partnerships by bringing representatives in for a focus group as one activity. This not only helps the school identify what local community and industry partners are seeking but also begins the process of building relationships between the school and those community and industry partners that will be essential in creating new school structures, curricula, internships, and apprenticeships.
  • Identify student interests in career and workforce pathways and have them audit their high school programming.

Complexities & Pitfalls

Connecting students to high school learning experiences that expose workforce pathways of potential interest is a complex and challenging process. The existing structures, systems, curricula, and instructional models may be well entrenched and difficult to change. Using a design-thinking process that focuses on empathy and understanding will help facilitate the changes from the ground up.

Common pitfalls

  • It can be very easy to focus primarily on teacher needs instead of student needs. This can create a system that does not necessarily support student learning and preparation to the optimum level. Keep the focus on the students, student preparation, and student data.
  • Schools are known for having inflexible structures. Often when a change does emerge, that change can run up against well entrenched procedures and structures. A school focused on connecting students’ experiences to workforce pathways and authentic learning opportunities needs to be adaptable and iterative.

Guiding Questions

To what extent are graduates prepared for postsecondary education and career success?

To what extent are curricular programs intentionally designed and implemented to prepare students for career success?

To what extent are programs connected directly and intentionally to student interests?

How might the school or school district identify community and industry partners’ needs for skilled employees/laborers?

How adaptable and amendable are the school structures (i.e., course schedules, graduation pathways, etc.)?

How might the school or district monitor successes and struggles in connecting high school learning experiences to career and workforce pathways?