Jul 29

Making the Pathway Development Process Easier

Many would agree that a modern system of higher education requires universities to create a transformative experience through which students can prepare to succeed in the varied roles they will undertake throughout their professional lives.

One of the major goals of the #UNCFCPI is to create career-guided pathways to connect this transformative experience to learning outcomes which are tied to competencies that employers require for their current opportunities. To position your students for gainful employment, it has been said that universities need to transform from a “course culture” to a “pathway culture.” Career pathway development process, discussed by Marcy Drummond, outlined a 6 step process for achieving institutional goals and objectives to create your unique career pathways.


The core of creating career pathways is to integrate academic and student services. The coherent and intentional system of curricular and co-curricular experiences should match a student’s clear interests and goals identified through student advising sessions and career services. This will ensure that students are adequately prepared for professional success in a rapidly changing global environment.  The more they attribute this success to your institution, the more robust your alumni network, participation, and giving.

With that said, let’s get down and dirty to break down the Research step of a data and stakeholder driven career pathway development process, which uses the Competency Model Framework.

Understanding the Competency Model Framework

At this point, it is assumed that the “right people are in the room” to kickstart the career pathway development initiative. Therefore, I will skip the preparation step that includes identifying partners and listing the desired outcomes. If you have started the research phase, you understand how important it is to collect and find relationships between data. Before you can approach the Design of the courses, experiential learning activities, and integrated co-curricular enhancements, your career pathways team will need to leverage the data and insights collected to effectively work through the competency model framework.

The Competency Model Framework helps identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that a globally competitive workforce requires. Specifically, the model is a collection of competencies that together define successful performance in a particular work setting.  This includes Foundational Competencies and Occupation-Specific Requirements.

Competency models are tools for career pathways stakeholders to communicate clearly about the competencies required for specific jobs, job groups, organizations, occupations, or industries, as well as a framework for developing educational offerings.

The competency model framework has 9 tiers. You can visualize it as a pyramid. Tiers 1 through 3 form the foundation competencies generally needed for entry and success for most jobs in the workplace. These competencies represent “soft-skills” that most employers demand. Tiers 4 and 5 show the cross-cutting industry-wide and industry-specific technical competencies needed to create career lattices within an industry wherein a worker can move easily across industry sub-sectors. The competencies on Tiers 6, 7, and 8 outline the occupational competencies that define performance in a workplace. These competencies can help design competency-based curriculums and articulate the requirements for occupational credentials such as licenses or certifications. Finally, Tier 9 is the management competencies for supervisor and manager occupations.

Rather than narrowly following a single occupational career ladder, this model supports the development of an agile learning outcomes to competencies framework.


Last week, we highlighted Dr. Samaad Wes Keys’s source suggestions. The information that you are most likely missing is real-time labor insights to empirically inform which competency models to develop based on demand in the market. Because Better Weekdays captures over one million current job opportunities daily, and keeps an updated database of open jobs across the U.S., we run analytics on the top industries, occupations and areas of study employers hire for in any given metropolitan area defined by metropolitan statistical area (MSA) codes.

To go through a dry run of what the Research step calls for in the career pathway development process, I am going to through one popular industry and occupation I have aggregated data for jobs available in Atlanta, GA. If you would like data for your region, just ask!

Breaking Down the Building Block Pyramid

Currently, the most popular industry for talent in Atlanta, GA is Healthcare. This makes medical staff the most demanded talent in Atlanta, GA. Now, I know this may not be a surprise since the growth of health care in the country is very clear, but having this type of data to rank all of the industries (which we can share) will allow your team to focus your career pathways development effort. The data will also help you direct your students to find employment in the industries where there is the greatest opportunity.

Let’s apply the competency model framework for the Healthcare industry for the very popular occupation of Nursing. Currently, there are 3,290 nursing jobs available in Atlanta, GA (do not get fooled by totals on Indeed rigged by duplicates!).

Foundation Tier

In Nursing, the most important Personal Effectiveness Competencies are “Interpersonal Skills” and “Professionalism.” Nursing graduates will need to listen attentively and communicate clearly with patients, families, peers, etc., establish rapport and maintain therapeutic relationships with patients. Graduates will also need to carry out professional responsibilities with the highest standards of excellence and integrity, consistent with the Honor Code and with adherence to ethical principles. This should inform how your university describes the Academic Competencies for nursing which is communication, listen and speaking and Workplace Competencies which is customer focused planning and organizing skills for developing your curriculum.

Industry Related Tier

The Industry Competencies for the occupation you are developing learning outcomes for are more straightforward. Industry-wide competencies for nursing include understanding healthcare delivery, healthcare information, and ethics. Industry-specific competencies include understanding medication, infection control, and diagnosis procedures amongst other technical competencies. Some industries require certifications to practice or work in the industry which your students should be aware about at the start of the program.

Your research documents for the stakeholders should include a brief description of the industry and/or industry sectors with current employment data and projections, occupations by projected employment, with annual mean wage, and average hourly earnings in the industry and key occupations.

This information is easily available through the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which publishes over 100 industries’ pages that display a “snapshot” of national data obtained from different BLS surveys and programs for capturing workforce statistics.

Occupational Tier

All occupations require a specific knowledge base, over and above that which is required for occupations in the industry as a whole. At the next level of the competency model are Occupation-Specific Knowledge Areas. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET) tool publishes the knowledge areas for every occupation.

For nursing, the competencies in this tier include the ability to maintain accurate, detailed reports and records, record patients’ medical information and vital signs, administer medications to patients, and monitor patients.

To access the pyramid that we went through for nursing, here is the full competency model for the more general allied health occupation. Hover over each block to view the description of each competency.

At the conclusion of the Research phase, your university should have a great understanding of competencies for each occupation connected to your programs. This understanding leads to the creation of learning outcomes for the next step of designing and enhancing your curriculum, developing intentional co-curricular engagement, and creating guided pathways.

Two Key Insights for University Leaders

1. Leverage the Resources available at the Competency Model Clearinghouse

The Competency Model Clearinghouse (CMC) provides validated industry competency models as well as tools to build a custom model and career ladder/lattice for any industry. There are industry-specific models for 20 industries that could be related to your college degree programs and more are being added. The Clearinghouse’s resource database and online tools allow you to build customized competency models and career ladders/lattices for the design phase that reflect regional workforce needs.

The CMC also offers tutorials and user guides on “Developing Competency Models and Career Ladders and Lattices” and “Applying Competency Models and Career Ladders and Lattices. The tutorials guide you through the entire process, and Excel worksheets provide a framework for evaluating the value of each competency to include in your curriculum.

The Clearinghouse also has competency models that other institutions have created and submitted to the CMC for you to search by industry and occupational clusters.

This database of user-submitted case summaries and stories demonstrates the many ways competency models are being used by specific states, industry groups, and career pathways initiative stakeholders.

2. Be methodical and work through framework rigidly

It’s easy to feel like going through each tier of the competency model framework is repetitive and that it produces the same conclusions that you may already know.  I would posit that the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative is an opportunity to assess “what’s missing”  or “what has not been accounted for” to ensure students get jobs. Diligently working through the process and staying true to the craft of design will always uncover enhancements. Believe me, my team goes through this every day as we develop our product. The process requires relentless focus on the problem before jumping to conclusions or solutions to be implemented. Believe in the process, and uncover innovations.  Remember – it also saves money!

Get Started. See what happens.

I think you know what to do to get started this week to develop learning outcomes tied to competencies. Dive into the Clearinghouse website to find examples if you are stuck at any stage. Please reach out if you would like labor insights data to optimize your efforts!

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