Berks County Career Pathways

Berks County Career Pathways Alliance

Preparing Students for Both College and Career

An explosion in technology and innovation has significantly changed our culture and workforce in recent decades. Perhaps less understood is the way in which this change impacts kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12) education.

For generations, public education prepared some students for college and others for direct entry into the workforce. You might remember when "college prep" and "vo-tech" were the two primary high school options. For quite some time, this model worked well. Those who earned a college degree usually entered white collar jobs and those who did not were able to secure low skill jobs that offered decent pay.

Today's workforce no longer supports this model. In general, good jobs - those that offer life-sustaining wages with opportunity for advancement - require at least some college and/or training. Simply stated, K-12 education must prepare learners for both college and career.

Berks County Career Pathways Alliance

While all Berks County school districts have been working to support the development of college and career readiness for their students, educators knew that collaboration around this work could maximize and align resources. In winter 2017, educators, business partners and workforce development members attended a Leadership Forum facilitated by the National Center for College and Career Transitions (NC3T) with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. This meeting was the impetus of the Berks County Career Pathways Alliance.

The purpose of the Alliance is not to dictate a "one-size-fits-all" countywide career pathways model. Rather, it is to offer well-researched recommendations and supports to enhance and expand K-12 career education. Importantly, the Alliance brings multiple stakeholders and their collective expertise to the table. As of October 2017, all Berks County school districts and both career and technical centers have joined the Alliance along with postsecondary, employer and workforce development partners.

The continuum of career education pictured below offers a broad view of a K-12 approach to preparing graduates to be college and career ready. At the high school level, students may enroll in a career pathway, a sequence of courses centered around a career cluster. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has identified five broad career clusters, and the Alliance recommends that districts organize their high school pathways around them.

As the school year unfolds, you'll hear more about the Berks County Career Pathways Alliance and ways in which you might get involved.

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Future Ready PA Index Includes Career Education

While college preparation has always been an integral part of K-12 education, career awareness and planning is a more recent focus. For example, Pennsylvania has adopted Career Education and Work Standards requiring all districts to develop a Guidance Plan (Chapter 339) and has expanded career and technical education programs of study that align with in-demand careers. At the federal level Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has replaced the No Child Left Behind legislation. In September 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) submitted its required ESSA plan, Future Ready PA, and career education is included:

  • Incentivizes career awareness instruction beginning at the elementary level.
  • Provides indicators of student success after graduation.
  • Increases the emphasis on student access to course offerings such as Advanced Placement International Baccalaureate, college credit and career and technical programs of study.
  • Incentivizes schools to offer career pathways that culminate with high value, industry recognized credentials.

Career and Technical Education

Berks County is fortunate to have two outstanding career and technical centers - Berks Career and Technology Center and Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center - offering STEM-related career pathways for in-demand, high wage careers.

Pennsylvania’s career and technical education (CTE) has come a long way since it's "vo-tech" days and now meets the challenge of preparing students for both college and careers. State-approved technical programs combine college preparation with real-world career skill development, giving students a jumpstart on both postsecondary education and careers. Most CTE graduates pursue two- or four-year college degrees or technical training programs. For those who choose to go directly into the workplace, CTE graduates are far better prepared to enter a skilled career rather than a low skilled, minimum wage job with little room for advancement. CTE graduates have relevant and highly marketable employability skills. Further, most CTE students earn at least one industry-recognized credential while in high school, giving them a competitive edge when looking for employment.
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Exploring College and Careers in High School

Learning academic and technical skills is one thing. Applying those skills in real-world work experiences is where students make the connection between today's learning and their future. When students engage in work-based learning they develop a better understanding of work culture, expectations and employability skills. This is often when learners begin to decide which career paths are and are not a good fit.

Work-based learning experiences may last from a few hours to a few weeks and include job shadows, internships, student competitions with business mentoring, speakers' series, career fairs and other opportunities.

In addition, students engage in experiences provided by postsecondary institutions such as seminars on campus, visiting professors, mentorships, student competitions and the opportunity to earn college credit through dual or concurrent enrollment options.

The Berks County Career Pathways Alliance values work-based learning and college exploration opportunities and is diligently working to ensure that all students have access to these experiences.

National Center for College & Career Transitions

The Berks County Career Pathways Alliance receives technical support from the National Center for College and Career Transitions. NC3T has a two fold mission: Every learner with a dream and a plan, every community with a skilled and ready workforce.

This support is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Career and Technical Education.