Career Clusters Theory

by Vickey Moon

The Career Clusters Theory provides education with a method of organizing course offerings by themes related to various careers. The concept is based on combining career tech and academic offerings to allow students to prepare for the future. The concept also allows students to apply academics through various career tech offerings.

Career Clusters are organized into sixteen segments that subdivide into over 70 specific career pathways. Each career pathway has specific skill requirements as well as knowledge requirements.

The goal of the career clusters concept is to prepare students with skills that focus on a specific career and are still flexible enough to transfer to related career offerings. In an age when skill and knowledge requirements are changing at a rapid pace, students must be prepared to adapt to change. Student mastery of skills is proven through certifications.


According to Wikipedia, the Career Clusters initiative began in 1996 in the United States as the Building Linkages Initiative and was a joint effort between the U. S. Department of Education, the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, the National School-to-Work Office, and the National Skills Board. The goal of the project was to create a clustered framework to prepare students to transition successfully from school to college to employment in a career area.

Perkins IV or the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 wants all students to achieve challenging academic and technical standards and be prepared for challenging occupations in current and future professions for the 21st century. To this end, the latest act requires states to offer programs that combine academic classes with career and technical classes. Within the 16 career clusters, there are career pathways or programs of study to prepare students for specific careers.

In the new Career and Technical Education course of study for Alabama, this translates to 305 courses. The state is seeking to broaden what is taught so students can broaden their work options.

Research Papers and Links

Research papers related to this theory include:
Career Clusters: A Plan of Education for a Global Economy
The History of Career Clusters by Katherine Ruffing
Occupational Clusters, Career Majors, and Programs of Study

A podcast on Career Clusters is located at:
A Longitudinal Study of South Carolina Personal Pathways to Success Initiative

Perkins IV allows each state to develop and implement career technical programs in one or more of the clusters. The programs can be in one or more of the 16 clusters. Information on some of the state sites is included at the following links:
State's Career Clusters Initiative -
Alabama -
Colorado -
Idaho -
Indiana -
Missouri -
New Mexico -
North Dakota-
Oklahoma -

The Clusters

The 16 Career Clusters are listed below along with a brief description of each. Downloadable icons and additional cluster information is available at States' Career Clusters at
Planning, managing, and performing agricultural production and horticulture and landscaping servicesand related professional and technical services, mining and extraction operations, managing and conserving natural resources and related environmental services.

Designing, planning, managing, building, and maintaining physical structures and the larger built environment including roadways and bridges and industrial

Designing, producing, exhibiting, performing, writing, and publishing multimedia content including visual and performing arts and design, journalism, and entertainment services.

Planning, managing, and providing administrative support, and human resources managment.

Planning, managing, and providing education and training services, and related learning support services including assessment and library information services.

Planning, managing, and providing banking, investment, financial planning, accounting, and insurance services.

Planning, managing, and providing government legislative and administrative and regulatory servicesand related general purpose government services at the federal, state, and local levels.

Planning, managing, and providing diagnostic therapeutic, and information and environmental services in health care.

Planning, managing, and providing lodging, food, recreation, convention and tourism, and related planning and support services such as travel-related services.

Planning, managing, and providing human services including social and related community services.

Designing, developing, managing, and operating communication and information technology systems, networks, information processing, and related hardware and software telecommunications and computing services.

Planning, managing, and providing judicial, legal, and protective services including professional and technical support servicesin the fire protectionand criminal justice system.

Planning, managing, and performing the processing of materials into intermediate orfinalproductsand related professionaland technical support activities such as production planning and control, maintenance and manufacturing/process engineering.

Planning, managing, and performing wholesaling and retailing services and related marketing and distribution support services including merchandise/product management and promotion.

Planning,managing, and providing scientific research and professional and technical services (physical/engineering and social) including laboratory and testing services, and research and development services.

Planning, management, and movement of people, materials, and goods by road, pipeline, air,rail, and water and related professional and technical support services such as transportation infrastructure planning and management, logistics services, mobile equipment and facility maintenance.


Alabama Course of Study: Career and Technical Education. (2008.) Retrieved June 15, 2009, from Alabama Department of Education. .

Career Clusters. (2009, July13.) Retrieved July 6, 2009, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Ruffing, Katherine. (n.d.) The History of Career Clusters by Katherine Ruffing. Retrieved July1, 2009. The History of Career Clusters by Katherine Ruffing

States' Career Clusters. (2009.) Retrieved June 30, 2009, from States' Career Clusters.