2018 Western Pathways Conference

June 19, 2018


The CWDC led the Colorado delegation to the 2018 Western Pathways Conference in Salt Lake City, May 30 - June 1. The conference was focused on building an education and workforce development systems which will prepare students and job seekers for careers. The conference was action-oriented addressing issues such as skills gaps, connecting education and business, and work-based learning. This year the conference expanded to all 19 western states, in efforts to share knowledge, experience, ideas, and best practices. CWDC Managing Director Stephanie Veck presented on topics including career pathways development in rural areas, business-led work-based learning, and the importance of business engagement in career pathways.


Common themes

Agility for students, job seekers, and businesses was a common theme across sessions, along with:

  • The shift from reading, writing, and arithmetic as the necessary skills to critical thinking, communications, and collaboration.
  • The importance of diversity in building strong teams
  • Broadband access is essential for strengthening rural opportunities
  • The importance of examples and early introductions to a variety of career pathways, especially STEM careers


Breakout: Can apps enable students to find the right career

This session proposed technology as a tool, not the complete solution to help students identify a career path early on. Technology needs to be both easy to navigate and accessible to every student, regardless of the area in which they live or the income their family makes. Context of all possible career pathways need to be available to the student. Career paths are looked at so as liner paths, when in reality those paths are more like slinkies. Often times career development is not part of the curriculum in school, it is an add on. Adults and students need to come together in organized, consistent efforts for a stronger impact in efforts to integrate career path exploration early on in the school curriculum.


Breakout: Attracting more women to careers in tech

This session focused on helping girls and women early on, building a supportive environment, offer to mentor, and create more awareness of all opportunities. In high school, 87% of girls don’t think STEM is for them and in college 40% of young women quit STEM degrees. Girls and women tend to be less interested in tech fields, but have a high aptitude for them. Discovering aptitudes help students uncover talents for careers to which they have not been exposed to and gives counselors better information for academic advising. Girls and women need mentoring early on and throughout their careers and get there through non-traditional pathways. There are populations of potential qualified candidates that are left untapped. For example, nationwide there are 4.6 million opportunity youth, 47% of women are underemployed, and 37% of men are underemployed. This does not include veterans, people with disabilities, immigrants, or other populations.


Examples in Innovation

The conference showcased examples of some of the exciting work happening across the western states. Students from Project Lead the Way shared the solution they engineered to the problem of gas canisters building up pressure and spraying gas, reinforcing the importance of hands-on, STEM experience for students. Brainstorm, a Silicon Slopes tech company, spoke about partnering with a school in Price, UT, a rural area, to host a tech fair and plans for future virtual internships. Salt Lake City Community College spoke about their experience implementing competency-based education highlighting the benefits and some of the challenges of removing time as a constant in education.