Clusters, Pathways, and POS

What are Career Clusters, Career Pathways and Programs of Study?

Career Clusters are groups of occupations and industries that have in common a set of foundational knowledge and skills. There are 16 nationally recognized clusters within which are multiple Career Pathways.

Career Pathways are multiyear programs of academic and technical study that prepare students for a full range of postsecondary options within each of the 16 clusters. Currently, there are 79 nationally recognized pathways, each with specific pathway knowledge and skills. These pathways provide a context for exploring career options at all levels of education and a framework for linking learning to the skills and knowledge needed for future education and employment.

POS Diagram 

Programs of Study (POS) are sequences of courses that incorporate a nonduplicative progression of secondary and postsecondary elements that include both academic and career and technical education (CTE) content. Effective Programs of Study should start no later than the ninth grade and continue through at least two years of postsecondary education. Programs of Study include opportunities to earn college credit (dual credit) in high school, an industry-recognized credential or certificate at the secondary/postsecondary level and an associate or baccalaureate degree.

Why do we need the Career Clusters framework?

Career Pathways, Career Clusters and POS allow students to get more involved and perform better in school by combining rigorous academics with career education so that students have a clear path to their future. Students who understand the relevance of what they are learning and how it aligns with a pathway to their educational and occupational goals achieve greater success in high school and beyond.

Career Clusters:

  • create clear educational pathways students can follow from secondary education to postsecondary education to the workplace
  • create smooth transitions in the educational pipeline
  • empower students through information and experiences they need to make educational choices
  • help design individual plans of study
  • are a key element in enhancing economic development by connecting schools with business and industry

Who benefits from Career Pathways and Programs of Study?

  • Students benefit as POS provide a link between education and careers. Pathways provide career guidance and a framework for students to plan their future. Students are more motivated when they can see the relevance of their education and are provided with smooth transitions to college and careers.
  • Educators benefit as POS provide support to integrate academic and CTE curricula, partake in professional development, align with school reform and receive administrative support. POS also connect educators with local business and industry to ensure that what students learn connects to careers.
  • Employers benefit as POS provide the opportunity to partner with educators to prepare future employees by determining the necessary skills, certification and current knowledge to succeed in the work force.
  • Communities benefit as POS provide an opportunity for business and industry to partner with education for local economic development and educational planning. Higher levels of educational attainment contribute to a healthier local economy.

How can Career Clusters, Career Pathways, and Programs of Study be used?

One use for Career Clusters, Career Pathways and POS is as a tool for career exploration and career development. Introducing students to broad Career Clusters, and the numerous Career Pathways and occupations within, expands the list of career possibilities for all students to consider.

At the secondary and postsecondary levels, Career Pathways provide curriculum standards that meet business and industry requirements. Implementing these standards helps to ensure student attainment of a high level of academic and technical skills and a seamless transition from secondary to postsecondary education as well as a satisfying career. 

"In our view, there should no longer be an artificial split between academic coursework and CTE studies, nor should exposure to career- or interest-based coursework be delayed until late high school or college. Rather, we believe that all coursework, with clearly articulated standards and expectations, can help build in for students the mix of skills, aptitudes and attitudes they will need to succeed after high school."  – Hans Meeder, President of the Meeder Consulting Group, LLC formerly OVAE Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education 

This information is reprinted here with permission from the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois who, with support from the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois State Board of Education, created "An Introduction to Illinois CTE Programs of Study". This document can be found on the OCCRL website at