News Release

Published on Monday, August 06, 2012

Western Technical College is embracing a national approach to introduce K-12 students to future career options. The initiative, called Career Pathways, is designed to help students navigate their way to greater success in their education and through to a career.

Over the past two years, Western has worked to realign its programs into clusters that coincide with a Wisconsin Career Pathway model, which has 17 cluster areas, such as Health Science, Information Technology, and Manufacturing. Within each of the clusters are career pathways, or subgroups of occupations/career specialties that have a set of common knowledge and skills.

A website,, outlines the cluster areas and pathways and lists possible occupations within each cluster. K-12 students can take an interest inventory test on the website and work with school counselors to develop an individualized educational plan.

For example, if a high school (or even middle school) student is interested in the manufacturing field, he or she can see what high school classes provide skills needed for several different manufacturing careers. Some of those high school classes can even count as credits toward a college degree.

“This is a great way for students to get exposure to the different career options that are out there,” said Deb Hether, manager of K-12 relations at Western. “They can work with their school counselor to come up with a four-year plan that is focused but still flexible. Ultimately, the goal is for students to have a seamless transition into college.”

Western is also working directly with K-12 educators to develop curriculum and programming that gives students hands-on experience to help them determine what occupations pique their interests.

One example is the La Crosse School District’s Health Science Academy that allows high school students to take classes at the Health Science Center in La Crosse. Those students receive tours of Western’s campus, visit the local hospitals to see the specialized occupations in action, and can earn college credit.

“Career pathways are essential for student success,” said Annette O’Hern, director of the Health Science Academy at La Crosse School District. “It’s important in these economic times to consider career pathways early in their education – exposure in middle school and exploration in high school.”

The Career Cluster philosophy also fits well with Western’s Vision 2020 master plan to help meet the needs of the 7 Rivers Region workforce. The college plans to physically cluster its programs into career centers so students get the experience of working with other departments like they will in a real job setting.

“The facilities piece of Vision 2020 will allow us to co-locate manufacturing programs, health programs, and general studies programs so they can more effectively share lab space and work together on projects,” said Western President Lee Rasch. “An understanding of what goes on prior to and after their role in the process can only make our graduates more effective in their jobs.”

The Wisconsin Technical College System, of which Western is a member, has gained national attention for its development of adult career pathways in which courses taken for one credential automatically build into the next. Western has incorporated the adult model into its Business and Industry Services Division, as well as its remedial and GED programming.

“We used this model for many of the dislocated workers who came to Western for retraining,” explained Rasch. “We offered certificate training that could be applied toward advanced certificates or associate’s degree programs, and, in some cases, could even lead to a bachelor’s degree program.”

Due to the success of this educational model, the WTCS has been invited to join the national Alliance for Quality Career Pathways to help create benchmarks and measures of success for career pathway initiatives. Other participating states include Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.

“Wisconsin should be proud of its involvement in this effort to increase the number of Americans with postsecondary credentials,” said Governor Scott Walker in the recent WTCS announcement on joining the alliance. “I look forward to the results of this multi-state collaboration and am hopeful it will yield yet another route for Wisconsin students to learn the knowledge needed to help solve our state’s skills gap.”