Women in School: Plans and Pathways — Why They Work

Plans and Pathways — Why They Work

An academic plan. A clear route to certification. A path to a better paying job. Education programs that focus on career pathways provide a viable way out of low-paying jobs and economic insecurity for adult students, and such programs are especially important to women. But how do adult students, many with basic skills deficits, begin on a journey of higher learning that can sometimes appear intimidating?

A clearly identified way to get to the next level in a career is invaluable to students who have little time to waste, particularly since many pursue further education while juggling family commitments and erratic work schedules. At the same time, some adults with limited credentials may find it hard to map out a way to college and a well-paying career on their own. That’s why the first step on a career pathway is often an assessment of skills and interests, so students can identify a career field that matches their interests and start thinking about the credentials and training they would need to get there. For the millions of women across the country working hard to take care of themselves and their families on low wages, just knowing the steps to building the future they envision can be a major motivator and an important resource.

With an academic plan, adult students can begin their journey at a point that works for them. This can mean bolstering their basic skills to become better prepared for college-level courses, exploring the types of jobs available in high-demand industries like healthcare and information technology, or gaining an initial certification and using that to transition to a better paying job quickly, then stepping back on the pathway later on to advance to higher credentials and an even better job.

In Illinois, where Women Employed is based, we’ve worked with the City Colleges of Chicago to craft initiatives like Career Foundations, which helps adults decide the pathway they want to take, and bridge programs, with which they can begin building the skills they’ll need for their chosen career. But outside of the black and white details of these programs, what makes them so effective for low-income women is their guiding principle of student support. That’s often key in helping non-traditional students stay on track to achieving the goals they’ve envisioned.

Take it from Shirlondra Brooks, WE’s Senior Program Manager in Education and Training. “A bus card can mean the difference between a student showing up or not. So some workforce agencies provide wraparound services for students to help them transition from the bridge program to a job. Included with their tuition are things like transportation, uniforms, and the tools they need for their profession.”

A major advantage of bridge programs is that the end goal is clear from the outset. In 32 weeks or less, students work on building their suitability for a good job. So rather than just reams of book work, students are also given occupational training for what they would like to go on to do, be it take a blood pressure test as a healthcare professional or manage the ins and outs of operating a fork lift.

Career pathway programs work. And for women and their families, taking a step on the ladder to better wages can change everything. Says Brooks, “I’ve had students who’ve come in who were homeless, went through the program, and now they’re working.”

It’s a simple but revolutionary approach to education and workforce development. In a time when many students struggle to transition into well-paying jobs after completing traditional college programs, career pathway programs illustrate how educational institutions can evolve to meet the demands of the present and future.

Learn more at womenemployed.org