Career Pathways: The Closest Thing to a Sorting Hat for Learners

At Hogwarts, the school for wizards, linking education with career pathways was easy. They had a hat.

If you’re familiar with the Harry Potter stories, you know all about the Sorting Hat, which served as the guidance counselor at Hogwarts. On the first day, they slap the Sorting Hat on your head, and it magically tells you what ‘house’ suits your personality. After that, a student has a lengthy and elaborate ladder to climb, full of roles and rules, skills and courses, to potentially work their way up to become the exalted Minister of Magic.

Muggles, as always, have to do it the hard way. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of career pathways for students, not just in getting ahead, but in imagining what “ahead” looks like—and that’s true whether you’re at Hogwarts or just in high school.

A career pathway is a map of how people advance in careers, stage by stage, and even more importantly, skill by skill. A pathway allows students and workers to orient themselves in their careers, with practical steps on how to enter (and if need be, exit) a field of work. It’s part of educational advising and career counseling, but it should also be something people can use through their whole working lives.

That sounds pretty basic, but it’s amazing how many people never have access to a pathway. Most students and working learners never even make use of the limited career guidance available. They may have a broad sense of how people progress in a field, but often lack specific insights at critical points, such as choosing courses at school, or in angling for a promotion. Many learners have never even seen a pathway. From the educator’s perspective, the lack of pathways hampers efforts to build strong connections with employers and link programs effectively to the job market.

We had one of our top Harry Potter experts at Burning Glass Technologies scope out what a career pathway might look like for someone who’s good with dragons, which you’ll see below. An aspiring dragonologist could end up in academia, government or the private sector, but not without acquiring some specific skills along the way. At the apprentice level, for example, a student will have to become expert at tracking, specific potions, and perhaps most importantly, fireproofing. At more advanced levels, being skilled at capture and release, as well as caring for dragons in a natural habitat, will become necessary.

It’s no different in a real-life occupational field. Consider the modern equivalent of the Defense Against the Dark Arts: cybersecurity. Burning Glass Technologies worked with CompTIA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create Cyberseek, a site that maps out the market for cybersecurity jobs and how to get them.

The career path in cybersecurity is laid out by a series of certifications and qualifications, starting with Security + and rising to Certified Information Security Professional (CISSP). Each certification and the skills it entails can move a worker up the ladder, bringing additional pay and responsibility.

Cyberseek career pathways

But cybersecurity is unusual in the extent to which it is marked by specific qualifications. Most occupations are a lot more free-form, with fewer formal qualifications and more skills sets that can be summed up as “I know it when I see it.” That’s not necessarily bad, but it does mean that people in most fields don’t have a clear track to get ahead. They have to rely on less-formal advice from friends and family, coworkers, and mentors.

Understanding those potential pathways is critical at many points, but perhaps most important for workers looking to change careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 1.4 million American workers are at risk of being displaced by technology over the next 10 years—not just losing jobs but being in jobs that are no longer needed by anyone. Those workers will need to find new careers, and other occupations will be unknown territory to them. They will need maps.

In a report Burning Glass produced with the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group, we built career pathways for a wide range of these jobs. The goal is to show that being displaced by automation doesn’t have to be disastrous. With proper retraining, the number of options available to the average workers expand dramatically. People have options they may not have even thought about. Take the example below from the WEF report, showing what an office assistant can do with the skills associated with that role:

There is actually a lot of overlap between the skills required in these jobs. “Soft skills,” like communication and time management, are useful anywhere. And even a number of the technical skills transfer over. Building career pathways with real-time labor information allow educators and training institutions to build upon the skills students already have and target the specific skills they need, leading to stronger connections with employers. With some targeted retraining, the leap from one occupation to another isn’t that far. And certainly not as far as from under the staircase to Hogwarts.

To see examples of career pathways that pertain to cybersecurity, watch our on-demand webinar here.

Curious which Hogwarts house you belong in? Get sorted here!

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