Adult Career Pathways from Coast-to-Coast

ACP Trailblazer

Elizabeth CreamerElizabeth Creamer

Director of Education and Workforce Development

Commonwealth of Virginia, Office of Governor Bob McDonnell

Q: Virginia has made a significant commitment to career pathways. Tell us how this commitment came about and how state leaders have galvanized support among education and workforce development stakeholders.

A: Career pathways in Virginia was initiated in 2008 by a team of Virginia Community College System (VCCS) administrators who had led the state’s Tech Prep program and saw in that model a potential vehicle for the state’s workforce as well as career and technical education programs. Assembling a work group of interested leaders from nine state agencies, the VCCS led the development of a state-wide, cross-agency strategic plan for career pathways, which was the result of a year-long planning and consensus building effort with multiple stakeholder groups including economic development and business and industry.

Career pathways in Virginia has gained traction as a movement because of the active support of the Governor’s Office and the Secretary of Education, the commitment and belief of the Career Pathways Work Group, and the accomplishments of regional consortia. Members of the work group are program leaders who have become adept at sharing resources and braiding funds to support a variety of critical initiatives such as career coaches, regional career pathways grants to encourage collaboration on sector strategies, and state and regional career pathways and workforce development report cards that measure annual progress against measures of educational attainment and workforce readiness.

Q: Your position in the Governor’s office is a recent development. Tell us about the multi-agency support that led to the appointment.

A: Governor Bob McDonnell and his Cabinet recognized the need to appoint a chief workforce officer who would report and act as a liaison to the Secretaries of Education and Commerce and Trade, aligning and connecting the work of the two agencies through career pathways. I was fortunate enough to lead the state’s Career Pathways Work Group for several pivotal years, during which time the power of career pathways to deliver initiatives valued by business and industry as well as to increase statewide collaboration between key workforce partners became evident.

Q: From your vantage point, what is the most promising career pathways initiative supporting lower-skilled adults in Virginia?

A: Designed through a collaboration of the Office of the Secretary of Technology, the Virginia Department of Education, and Virginia Commonwealth University, PluggedInVA is a career pathways program that supports adults lacking a high school diploma or GED®. Moving far beyond traditional models of adult education, PluggedInVA is truly making a difference in the lives of lower-skilled adults across the Commonwealth. (See the State Spotlight article for program details.)

Q: From a personal standpoint, why do the core tenets of career pathways resonate with you?

A: Career pathways resonate with me because I was a non-traditional student who completed a degree while raising three small children and working a variety of low-paying jobs. I was a mother by 18 and didn’t have a full-time career with benefits until I was 42. I could not have achieved the career I have now if programs had not been available to help adults like me who needed a second chance at education to earn a degree. My story demonstrates it’s never too late to get an education, to start a new career, and to transform not just your life, but the lives of your children. My work with career pathways is an opportunity to “pay forward” the great gift Virginia gave to me: a pathway and access to higher education and a family sustaining wage.



American Association of Community Colleges Workforce Development Institute

San Diego, CA
January 30-February 2, 2013


National Association of Workforce Boards Forum

Washington, DC
March 8-12, 2013


Commission on Adult Basic Education Conference

New Orleans, LA
March 24-28, 2013


Mountain Plains Adult Education Association Conference

Cheyenne, WY
April 10-12, 2013


American Association of Community Colleges Annual Convention

San Francisco, CA
April 20-23, 2013

This is an archived newsletter from ACP-SC and is available for archival purposes only. Hyperlinks on this page may be broken or may no longer link to the content specified from within the original posting date.

State Spotlight: Virginia’s Commitment to Career Pathways

Career pathways initiatives supporting both youth and adults can be found across Virginia. The state continues to make significant investments that ensure its learning opportunities closely align to its workforce prospects and employer needs and are coordinated across state agencies. In 2008, Virginia released Bridging Business and Education for the 21st Century Workforce, a report that accelerated career pathways activities already underway in the Commonwealth. Recommendations from the report called for:

  • Developing a statewide framework that supports regional activities;
  • Using data to inform and evaluate program development and success;
  • Facilitating transitions among education and employment systems, programs, and services;
  • Expanding support services such as advising and coaching; and
  • Building a sustainable career pathways system supported across state agencies and prioritized by the business community.

A multi-agency work group brought together representatives from a host of state agencies to envision and commit to developing a statewide system that offered flexibility to meet regional workforce demands. All active partners in Virginia’s Career Pathways Work Group and Executive Committee participate in the strategic planning, operational support, and promotion of regional career pathways throughout the state.

Since that time, numerous career pathways initiatives have emerged to serve target populations. The career pathways system has become the principal model for workforce development in Virginia, bringing together nine state agencies with responsibilities for administering federal and state-funded career and technical education and workforce development programs including:

  • Perkins,
  • Workforce Investment Act (WIA),
  • Wagner-Peyser,
  • The Virginia Department of Education,
  • Virginia Community College System,
  • State Council of Higher Education in Virginia,
  • Virginia Economic Development Partnership,
  • Department of Business Assistance,
  • Department of Labor and Industry,
  • Department of Social Services, and
  • Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Instructor Rachel Riggsby with PluggedInVA cohort in southwest Virginia. Instructor Rachel Riggsby with PluggedInVA cohort in southwest Virginia.

Adult Education Career Pathways Programs Making a Difference

Of particular interest to adult educators engaged in career pathways is the success experienced by the PluggedInVA (PIVA) initiative, which started in southwest Virginia in 2009. The first six-month pilot was launched in response to a need for qualified candidates at two local information technology companies. Program participants ranged in age from 18 to 44 and each earned a General Education Development (GED®) test certificate and Digital Literacy Certificate. Additionally, 77 percent earned Career Readiness Certificates and 69 percent completed 24 college credits. Encouraged by the success of the first cohort, PIVA has continued operating in southwest Virginia and has expanded to other regions of the state in a range of industries, including: construction and weatherization, health care, electronic medical records, entrepreneurship, and advanced manufacturing.

PIVA is a career pathways program that provides motivated adult learners a contextualized GED® curriculum integrated with technical training as a means to develop essential skills. The program has organized services in three areas: academic preparation—providing instruction in math, reading, writing, computer use, and technical training; counseling—supplying information on financial aid, stress and time management, study skills, business etiquette, personal support, and orientation to college life; and mentoring—helping orient learners to college activities and offering encouragement and support.

Another statewide initiative designed to increase credential attainment and employment of lower-skilled adults is the Adult Career Coach program recently launched by the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). Inspired by the success of Virginia’s high school career coach program, Adult Career Coaches are based at diverse entry points to Virginia’s workforce development system to provide one-on-one assistance with career and education planning, financial aid, college admissions, career assessments, and job placement. An interactive tool, Virginia Education Wizard, supports the coaches efforts in assisting adults obtain the information they need to identify and pursue a career with a centralized source for career pathways, education, and financial aid resources.

Additional VCCS programs supporting Adult Career Pathways include the Middle College and On Ramp initiatives.

PLuggedInVA Logo

Middle College allows individuals without a high school degree to increase their income and employability by simultaneously pursuing a GED®, community college education, and a workforce certification in a college environment. The program offers targeted remedial courses, access to workforce readiness courses, enrollment in community college courses applicable to a degree or industry-based certificate, and comprehensive support services.

The On Ramp program aligns the VCCS strategic plan, Achieve 2015, with career pathways planning and expanded rapid response assistance for unemployed and underemployed individuals. Colleges that serve local workforce investment areas with the highest unemployment rates in the state or which have been impacted by a significant layoff event are participating in the program. On Ramp offers a flexible training design framework to improve the employment rates of dislocated workers through career advising and postsecondary credential attainment.

Elizabeth Creamer, Virginia’s Director of Education and Workforce Development, says the state has nearly one million adults lacking a high school diploma or equivalent. “To significantly decrease that number requires the combined efforts and resources of multiple state and regional partners. Career pathways engage diverse stakeholders and offer effective, creative solutions to address challenges to the state’s economic growth.”

Special thanks to contributors: Kate Daly, Elizabeth Creamer, Caroline Thurston, and Scott Kemp.

Virginia Career Pathways Links:


Featured ACP Resource

Adult College Completion Tool Kit Cover

Adult College Completion Tool Kit

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, September 2012

This fall, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) released the Adult College Completion Tool Kit to help policymakers at state and local levels implement practical evidence-based solutions that increase the number of graduates earning the degrees and certificates necessary to compete for good jobs. The tool kit is designed to connect state administrators and local practitioners to strategies, resources, and technical assistance tools resulting from the department’s work. It focuses on three key areas: access, quality, and completion.

Each section of the tool kit includes state and local examples illustrating how programs can improve the college transition process for their students. The tool kit is aligned with the needs of four target student populations—veterans, adult basic education students, incarcerated individuals, and high-skilled immigrants—and provides handouts practitioners can use to encourage individuals in these target groups to prepare for and complete at least one year of postsecondary education and training.

The tool kit is available for download at:


Research and Policy Corner

Taking Root: The Virginia Career Pathways System

Taking Root: The Virginia Career Pathways System

Workforce Strategy Center, September 2012

In 2008, Virginia embarked on the development of a statewide career pathways system. This report highlights the efforts of a multi-agency Governor-led task force and stakeholders from across the state to align publicly supported services and programs to build a workforce customized to the needs of regional labor markets.

The following lessons learned are supported with strategies and examples to offer insights to other states engaged in career pathways development.

  • Create a statewide planning structure that balances agency authority with operational capacity. To ensure continuity, task force membership should be comprised of career positions empowered to make decisions for their agency rather than political appointees.
  • Career pathways planning and implementation takes time and effort. Engaging an outside entity to facilitate the process can be important to prevent an initiative from being seen as the product of a single state agency.
  • Effective communication is the key to success. A strong “elevator speech” can be vital to ensuring all stakeholders understand a complicated process.

The complete report is available for download at:

Phone: 703-688-ACP7 (2277)
Kratos Learning, ACP-SC Project
2920 South Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22206

Disclaimer: The Adult Career Pathways (ACP) News is a publication of the Designing Instruction for Career Pathways (DICP) initiative and was produced by Kratos Learning, in partnership with the Center for Occupational Research and Development, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), under Contract No. ED-CFO-10-A-0072/0001. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education should be inferred. This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.