Pathway Perspectives

The online journal of the National Career Pathways Network

Apprenticeships in Career Pathways

Jennifer Jirous-Rapp, PhD, Vice President, Pathways & Partnerships, CORD

Career pathways and registered apprenticeships (RA) have become familiar concepts in workforce and education. Known as strategies that aim to help workers acquire the skills and credentials they need to succeed in our fast-paced evolving labor market, both models offer learners the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials, increase their employability skills, and advance in their chosen fields. By connecting these models, educators can create and make accessible more opportunities for all learners to advance in their education and careers, while meeting the needs of employers and the economy.

Both Career pathways and registered apprenticeships have a long history in the United States. RA connects back in the colonial era when apprentices learned various trades from skilled craftsmen. In 1937, the National Apprenticeship Act (also known as the Fitzgerald Act) was passed, which established standards and regulations for registered apprenticeship programs, as well as joint labor-management apprenticeship committees that oversaw the training. Since then, RA programs have expanded and diversified across various industries and occupations, ranging from the skilled trades and construction, to emerging fields like technology, healthcare, energy, and advanced manufacturing. Registered apprenticeships provide paid on-the-job learning and mentorship as well as supplemental education aligned to recognized credentials in an environment that fosters diversity, quality, and safety. Similarly, pre-apprenticeships include industry training coupled with classroom instruction, industry and occupation exploration, and an opportunity for to build technology, math, English, and work-readiness skills; and are designed to prepare youth and populations that have been underrepresented in certain industries or experience various challenges to enter and succeed in apprenticeships.

The concept of career pathways emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a response to the challenges of low-wage workers, skill shortages, and changing economic conditions. Many states and regions have developed career pathways systems, often in collaboration with federal agencies, employers, and other stakeholders to expand access to high-quality education and training programs that prepare students and workers for in-demand jobs and careers. Career pathways are a series of connected education and training programs that enable learners to move to higher levels of education and employment while providing multiple entry and exit points, aligned curriculum and credentials, support services, and opportunities for employer engagement. Career pathways can be seen as a way of organizing academic disciplines and curricula around broad occupational clusters or industries.

Career Pathways and registered apprenticeships have similar elements, including:

  • Classroom instruction integrated with career-related academic, technical, and employability skills;
  • Curricula vetted by employers to ensure that it prepares participants for success and aligns with industry standards and employer needs;
  • Classroom instruction reinforced by hands-on learning to give participants a deeper understanding of the workplace;
  • Options for earning college credits and/or industry-recognized credentials.

Both career pathways and RA are supported and promoted by various federal, state, and local agencies, as well as by employers, educators, and community organizations. Some of the key federal policies and programs that support both include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins), National Apprenticeship Act, and the DOL Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Grant Program. These policies and programs aim to align education, training, and employment services across different sectors and systems, and to provide flexible and accessible pathways for diverse populations of learners and workers.

Career pathways and registered apprenticeship alignment requires a common understanding of the impact and value such alignment brings to all stakeholders including students, parents, educators, and employers. Here are some simple strategies to achieve closer CP-RA connections:

  • Read about national and state strategies to align CP and RA.
  • Learn how CP and RA are supported and structured in your state.
  • Connect with your state and regional CP and RA leaders.
  • Assess your state and/or region’s readiness for alignment-building activities.

Interested in learning more? Join us this fall at NCPN for a pre-conference session that will focus on the benefits and challenges of these approaches and provide resources and tools for developing and sustaining partnerships with employers and other stakeholders to successfully connect and sustain them. You will learn from experts in the field as well as a panel of practitioners who are implementing this work.


Jennifer Jirous-Rapp joined CORD as a Senior Researcher at the Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) in April 2023. She supports initiatives related to STEM, Career and Technical Education, and Adult Education. Prior to joining CORD, Jennifer worked at the American Institutes of Research (AIR) as a Technical Assistance Consultant for national projects focused on education and workforce development, including coaching several states in apprenticeship expansion initiatives. Jennifer also worked for 10 years in state-level administration in Colorado where she provided leadership for the implementation of the state’s State Apprenticeship Expansion grant at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the implementation of Adult Career Pathways funding for the Colorado Department of Education. She has experience as a state director of STEM and Arts secondary and post-secondary Career and Technical Education programs at the Colorado Community College System and has over a decade of experience as a Community College faculty and Department Chair at Pikes Peak Community College. Jennifer has a PhD in Leadership, Research and Policy from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.