“We encourage you to to think about how you can forge stronger partnerships and deeper collaborations to build the talent pipeline that you need for your future.”

—Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education


The future of work offers both an opportunity and a challenge. Trends toward automated work were already in motion before COVID-19, but the pandemic accelerated them and is likely to permanently reduce demand for traditionally “lower-skill” occupations. Tomorrow’s jobs will demand more complex skills, be geared toward digital tasks, pay better, and require ongoing learning. 

The bad news is that employers are struggling to fill open positions because today’s workforce lacks the necessary skills. And the United States is lagging behind its competitors. Over the past 30 years, resources for worker training have been declining in the U.S. and investment as a proportion of GDP has dropped from 0.08% in 1993 to 0.03% in 2019. 

There are millions of Americans who could succeed in better-paying jobs but are overlooked because they exist outside traditional talent pools. Investment in educational pathways that lead to employment will prepare the next generation of Americans to respond to the needs of a changing economy. 

A collaborative approach across government, business, and education is the only way to ensure we train our workforce to deliver the skills employers actually need and give all Americans an equal opportunity to develop them. Here are five ways that employers can support career-connected education pathways. 


  1. Offer employer-supported apprenticeship programs
    Sunrun — a leader in American solar and energy services — recently partnered with Guild Education to create a professional development program called PowerU. The program provides professional development and degrees for Sunrun workers in fields like sustainability management, electrical engineering, and sales leadership. These types of earn-and-learn models help to retain talent and can also be replicated through the registered apprenticeship system and partnerships with schools and community colleges. 
  2. Collaborate with local educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders to design career-connected education pathways that work for employers and communities
    Employer contributions to curriculum design and local training opportunities ensure that students and jobseekers are equipped with the in-demand skills and credentials needed to get hired. Oftentimes, these types of engagements with schools fall within corporate social responsibility programs, making it easier for employers to engage directly with students and their communities.  
  3. Use data to support your initiatives
    Career-connected learning is not simply workforce training. Students participating in career-connected learning programs are more likely to enroll in and complete postsecondary education programs. And students often need support from employers to achieve the most beneficial results. For example, 26 states measure student participation in work-based learning programs as part of their federal accountability model. Student success in this metric is not possible without a broad range of employer engagement. Successful pathway programs produce data-driven results and offer the best incentives for employers looking to engage.

  4. Be proactive on issues concerning diversity and inclusion to provide equitable opportunities
    Businesses can advocate for programs that ensure multiple pathways for success are available to jobseekers in their communities regardless of their backgrounds. Schools and community colleges reflect local communities and local talent. Consider how the use of internships, apprenticeships, and other partnerships with schools and community colleges can contribute to DEI goals and efforts.  

  5. Seek diverse funding streams to build sustainable pathways
    Strong and sustainable career pathway ecosystems rely on a diverse range of funding sources, including state and federal dollars, private companies, and philanthropies. Smart funders understand school and student needs before committing financial capital. Businesses can learn about these needs by engaging with schools seeking business intelligence, informing curriculum, and supporting student placement in high-quality work-based learning programs.


To learn more about career pathways, listen to the Business Forward podcast series with the Department of Education and download our one-pager.