Career Clusters

Career Clusters were developed by the U.S. Department of Education to help you learn how individual careers fit into the larger picture of major industries. The 16 clusters and career pathways within each represent distinct areas of employment. These areas call for unique sets of skills and varying levels of education and training.

Career Clusters provide students with a context for studying traditional academics and learning the skills specific to a career, and provide U.S. schools with a structure for organizing or restructuring curriculum offerings and focusing class make-up by a common theme such as interest.

In the U.S. Department of Education model, 16 Career Clusters link to 80 more specific Career Pathways – each have their own knowledge and skills requirements. Within the 80 career pathways, Career Specialties are defined. The structure has evolved over time and may vary by state. The U.S. DOE Career Clusters framework is useful for connecting students with courses of study and careers via Career Assessments, and allows them to learn general, more transferable skills at the cluster level, with more specific skills and knowledge acquired at the career pathways and speciality levels.

16 Career Clusters

1. Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Career Cluster

Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Career ClusterThe agriculture, food, and natural resources cluster is large and diverse, with careers ranging from the farm to the laboratory to the corporate office. This industry is made up of the farmers who cultivate the land, raise livestock, and grow plants; the businesses that purchase, process, distribute, and transport farm products and farm supplies; and the organizations that supply services to the farmer and the consumer.

Closely related to agriculture are the areas of natural resources and environmental services. Workers in these areas develop, maintain, and manage the natural environment. Among other things, they monitor air quality, test for harmful chemicals in water supplies, enforce state and national laws at parks and preserve lands, and dispose of harmful waste materials.

People who work in these fields have firm knowledge of how everyday life affects the environment and vice versa. Whether they are involved in the business, research, or technical aspects of this field, workers in this area have a deep appreciation for the natural environment.

Read more about Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Career Cluster.

2. Architecture and Construction Career Cluster

Architecture and Construction Career ClusterArchitecture and construction is a complex cluster that deals with all aspects of planning, building, and maintaining a structure, whether it is a skyscraper or a highway. Jobs in this field range from designing an entire community to installing security and fire alarms in individual buildings. In addition to the planning and building of structures, this field also covers the servicing of equipment that, when installed, becomes a vital part of the structure, such as plumbing, heating, central air-conditioning, electrical wiring, lighting equipment, elevators, and escalators. The construction industry is one of the largest industries in the United States.

For most of the trades involved in construction, the workers do not start at the beginning of the building process and work until the building is complete. Workers come in for the portion of the job that involves them and then move on to other projects. So, an electrician comes in to wire a house and then moves on to another construction site. He or she may have to come back to do more electrical work, but it is not essential to have an electrician at a job site every day. Because workers come and go, it is important to have a project supervisor, or job foreman, who knows all the phases of the work being done.

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3. Arts, Audio-Video Technology, and Communication Career Cluster

Arts, Audio-video Technology, and Communication Career ClusterFor centuries people have sought to improve methods of communication. Through means as varied as dance, writing, and broadcasting, our basic need to communicate keeps us entertained, informed, and connected to one another and the world around us. Although the field of arts, audio-video technology, and communication offers career opportunities that range from playwright to audio engineer, they all share one thing in common: a desire to improve our understanding of one another through communication.

Careers in visual arts, performing arts, and areas of journalism, broadcasting, and film call for strong creative talents. Workers in these areas must be able to invent or work with a concept or idea and convey it to a wide audience in a clear and understandable way. On the other hand, people who work in audio and video technology, printing, and telecommunications need to have the strong technical (math and science) skills that keep these systems running.

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4. Business, Management, and Administration Career Cluster

Business, Management, and Administration Career ClusterFor as long as people have been exchanging goods and services for payment of some sort, business transactions have been a part of life. All businesses can be defined as organizations that provide customers with the goods and services they want. Most businesses attempt to make a profit, that is, make more money than it takes to run the business. Some businesses, however, attempt only to make enough money to cover their operating expenses. These businesses, which are often social service agencies, hospitals, foundations, or advocacy groups, are called nonprofits or not-for-profits.

The jobs in this cluster deal with all aspects of maintaining a well-run business, which includes developing business plans; obtaining the necessary funds to run the business; hiring and developing staff; examining the competition; creating and promoting the business’s goals, identity, and products; and tending to all of the administrative and information needs of the business. In large corporations, these functions are handled by hundreds of employees in different departments, which may be spread out across several geographic areas. In smaller start-up businesses and some nonprofit organizations, one or two people handle all of these responsibilities. By developing skills in several of the job categories within this cluster, opportunities for advancement and growth are almost limitless.

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5. Education and Training Career Cluster

Education and Training Career ClusterLearning is a lifelong experience. From the moment we are born, we begin to learn ways to communicate with others to fulfill basic needs for food, warmth, and attention. Through our early interactions with our families, we begin to learn what works (a baby will cry when it needs food), what does not (a toddler’s temper tantrums generally are not rewarded), and some basic rules that we will use for the rest of our lives (such as looking both ways before crossing the street). As we mature and advance in our education and careers, we continue to learn about the rules, both written and unwritten, which enable us to better understand and constantly improve ourselves, our work, and our relationships to others. The careers in this cluster all deal with the fundamental tasks of education and training. Workers here provide instruction, management, counseling, and support to others.

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6. Finance Career Cluster

Finance Career ClusterFinance professionals such as bank employees, commodities brokers, and insurance claims representatives have very different day-to-day job responsibilities, but they all deal with the management and movement of money in one form or another.

Although people still use banks primarily as places to safely keep and manage their money, today most automobiles, home appliances, and houses are bought through bank consumer loans. Inventories, equipment, and machinery for business and industry are also financed by term loans made through bank commercial departments. The major service areas of banking are commercial banking, including corporate lending; consumer, or retail, banking; and trust administration and estate planning. Business banking is the major service function of the industry. Business bankers are involved in making loans to businesses and corporations. This includes providing credit assistance for such things as accounts receivable financing, leasing, energy financing, and equipment financing. Bank loans to commerce and industry total hundreds of billions of dollars.

Another important aspect of finance is securities and commodities exchanges. Places such as The New York Stock Exchange provide central meeting places and supervised auction markets where brokers buy and sell securities, or shares of ownership in companies, for their clients. Commodities futures exchanges are similar to stock exchanges, except commodities brokers trade in the future prices of goods such as grain, cotton, or livestock instead of companies. Futures trading provides protection against changeable prices in the cash markets.

The insurance industry, also part of the finance cluster, provides protection for customers against financial loss from various hazards. This protection is offered in the form of insurance policies. The industry is a massive, highly complex one that has grown out of an ancient and very simple principle: The more people who share a financial risk, the smaller the risk is for each. The major types of insurance policies sold are life insurance, health insurance, and property and casualty insurance.

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7. Government and Public Administration Career Cluster

Government and Public Administration Career ClusterYou probably spend much of every day complaining about things you do not like about school such as unfair grading practices, broken lockers, or gum under the desks. Although some students will just complain, others will try to change these troubling issues. Perhaps you are prepared to speak to the principal, write to school board members, or to just take a putty knife and scrape the gum off the desk yourself. If so, you may have the kind of leadership skills necessary for a career in politics. Though most people form opinions on political issues, some take their civic concerns even further by devoting their lives to government- related careers.

For some of these careers, you must be elected. Local, state, and federal officials, such as governors, state legislators, and U.S. Congress members must campaign and attract voters. The process of obtaining office can be a long, hard struggle. And once elected, the term in office may be as short as two years, as in the House of Representatives. The higher the office, the more time and money the candidate spends to campaign for the position. Political candidates begin by getting petitions with lists of signatures to show that there are several hundred or, in some cases, several thousand registered voters interested in having them run for office. After announcing their candidacy, candidates proceed to advertise, speak at public and private gatherings, and meet with the public frequently in order to keep their names in the minds of voters. Candidates hire many employees that help them get to know the public (and vice-versa) and manage the candidate’s busy schedule. Some examples of these employees are campaign managers, press representatives, public relations specialists, financial advisers, and fund-raisers, just to name a few. If the candidate wins, many of these employees often stay on to work in the elected official’s office.

Not all important political decisions and campaigns revolve around Washington, D.C., however. Every state, county, and city has its own unique concerns and issues. And not every person involved in local politics is an elected official. Hired city managers and urban planners gauge the needs of their cities and local communities and propose changes to government officials. Among the responsibilities of managers and planners are the preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods, the development of affordable housing and efficient public transportation, the building of civic centers and auditoriums, and the design of new parks and recreational areas.

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8. Health Science Career Cluster

Health Science Career ClusterThe health science field has become one of the largest of the career clusters. Approximately 14 million people were employed in some aspect of the U.S. health care system in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Health care workers are employed as physicians, nurses, nursing aides, technicians, technologists, therapists, and in a host of other occupations.

The health care industry continues to develop at a rapid rate with the discoveries of new drugs, treatments, and cures. Modern technologies such as computers and digital imaging are being used by the medical community to perform tests, compile data, diagnose illnesses, and train professionals. Many surgeries are no longer performed with a scalpel, but with lasers. Disease, illness, and injury are now being treated and cured so successfully that the general population is living much longer and the number of elderly is increasing.

During the past two decades, there has been an increasing interest in alternative medicine, which refers to such practices as massage therapy, herbal remedies, homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, and meditation. Although once frowned upon by the traditional medical community, more and more physicians and hospitals are embracing alternative medicine and finding new ways to combine old and new approaches to healing.

The structure of the health science cluster is enormously varied. There are many different jobs to choose from and many different facilities in which to work. While some careers, such as physicians and nurse practitioners, require many years of study and practice, there are many medical technician careers that offer high pay and great opportunities with a relatively short training period (two years or less). Because of the increasing demand for quality health care services, medical facilities employ technicians to perform many of the tasks that doctors, nurses, and other professionals once performed.

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9. Hospitality and Tourism Career Cluster

Hospitality and Tourism Career ClusterThe hospitality and tourism industry provides accommodations, meals, and personal services for both the traveling public and permanent residents. The range of employment opportunities in the industry is vast. All positions, from bellhops to executive chefs to amusement park workers, share the same goal: serving the public.

This cluster includes not only those careers that involve public directly, but the many behind-the-scenes careers in management, janitorial services, and technology that ensure enjoyable experiences for the public. For example, when you stay at a large hotel, the people you probably interact with the most are the front desk clerks, concierges, and baggage porters. However, every hotel requires reservationists who book people’s visits; computer programmers who design the reservation system and maintain the hotel’s computer network; housekeeping staff that keep the hotel clean and see to guests’ individual needs; food service workers who provide meals for the guests and staff; decorators and designers who choose the hotel’s furnishings and overall look; maintenance staff who ensure that the utilities are running smoothly; and managers who oversee the staff and ensure the hotel’s financial success. All of these workers are part of the hospitality and tourism industry, and the main goal of all of these workers is to make guests feel welcome.

The food and beverage industry makes up one of the largest and most lucrative sectors of hospitality and tourism. The businesses that supply food to customers, such as restaurants, coffee shops, fast food chains, food outlets in hotels, catering firms, and a host of other establishments, have specific methods of preparing and serving food. Modern operating methods are becoming essential in today’s food service industry. The most successful restaurant companies have devised systems to maximize labor and cut costs. But despite increased automation, the need remains for personal service to customers and skill and imagination in the kitchen.

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10. Human Services Career Cluster

Human Services Career ClusterThe human services career cluster contains jobs that deal with families and human needs. Human services workers help people manage the many mental, emotional, and practical demands of everyday life, such as finding a home, securing child care, deciding on a career, or arranging funeral services for loved ones. They also help people deal with the unexpected, such as terminal illness, natural disasters, or addiction and recovery. Work in this area can also involve physical improvements and needs, such as helping someone achieve weight loss or providing massage therapy for health and relaxation. Regardless of the specific area in which they work, all human services share a genuine interest in helping people.

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11. Information Technology Career Cluster

Information Technology Career ClusterDo the following statements describe you? Your computer is your favorite possession. You like to program for fun. People often come to you when they are stuck with a computer problem and need some help. You keep up-to-date on the latest software and hardware by visiting computer stores and reading computer magazines.

If that sounds like you, a career in information technology (IT) might be the right choice for your future. The information technology cluster contains jobs that deal with the development, installation, and management of computer hardware, software, and multimedia. Hardware refers to the computers and peripherals (such as keyboards, external drives, speakers, and printers) that have become a standard part of just about every home and work environment. Software refers to the programs that enable users to write papers, browse the Internet, download music, play games, and so forth. Multimedia in this instance refers to Web content.

Information technology careers can be found in almost every industry, from construction to medicine. Computers have become an essential part of how the world does business. Information technology professionals ensure that an organization’s technology needs are met, and that help is available when problems occur.

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12. Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security Career Cluster

Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security Career ClusterYou’ve probably seen people who drive as if there were no speed limits or stop signs. They zoom down the road, oblivious of others and hoping for the best. What if there really were no traffic laws like stopping at stop signs or driving slower on a curvy road? We would live in a much more dangerous and disorganized society if we did not have laws.

Our legal system includes statutes (laws) enacted by legislatures (Congress) and decisions handed down by the courts (judicial system). The law provides us with guidelines and rules to live by in our personal, social, and business activities. When someone does not follow the laws or a law is unclear, our legal system includes ways to settle disputes and resolve conflicts. The law in the United States is based on democratic principles, and its goal is to protect individual rights and ensure a just and free society. The careers in this cluster deal with the creation, enforcement, and application of these laws and regulations.

Also included in this cluster are public safety and security careers. Virtually every aspect of life involves policies and regulations that promote public safety. The exterior of a house meets certain codes, or rules, so that it will not catch on fire easily. Even your dog must be controlled according to regulations like leash laws. Public safety also involves careers that involve emergency management, such as firefighters and rescue workers of various types.

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13. Manufacturing Career Cluster

Manufacturing Career ClusterThe manufacturing cluster contains jobs that involve turning raw materials into final products that are sold to buyers. Manufacturing work refers not only to the people who make the products, but the many people in management, engineering, design, and other areas. Manufacturing workers come up with product ideas, test products to make sure they are assembled properly, and manage the shipment and receipt of manufactured goods. Manufacturing covers a wide range of industries, including food, beverage, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel, textiles, lumber, tobacco, automobiles, aerospace, and petrochemicals. In manufacturing, there are two types of goods produced: durable and nondurable. Durable goods have a long life span and hold up over time. Examples of durable goods are cars, airplanes, and washing machines. Nondurable goods have a shorter life span and include such products as food, cosmetics, and clothing.

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14. Marketing, Sales, and Service Career Cluster

Marketing, Sales, and ServiceMarketing is anticipating what customers need, and then directing goods and services— and information about those goods and services—from producer to customer to satisfy those needs. Marketers work with advertising professionals to determine how ads should look, where they should be placed, and when the advertising should begin. Marketing and advertising employees research and develop the look and message of an ad. They need to be sure that the ad appeals to the interests of the targeted audience. Marketing professionals also ensure that information about goods and services reaches customers in a timely fashion. Marketing campaigns may begin months before a product is available. This creates a desire for the product in the marketplace and gives the manufacturer a leg up on any competitors.

Closely related to marketing is the field of sales. Sales jobs involve actual transactions between customers and manufacturers, retailers, or wholesalers. In these transactions, money is exchanged for goods or services. Manufacturers produce consumer goods. Wholesalers buy products from manufacturers and sell them to retail businesses, which in turn sell them directly to customers. Jobs in sales are diverse. For example, they can involve managing the sales of goods to an entire region of the country, or the one-on-one sales transaction that takes place between a cashier and customer.

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15. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Career Cluster

Science, Technology, Engineering, and MathematicsDo you like performing experiments to test scientific hypotheses? Do you enjoy the challenges of working with numbers? Perhaps you like thinking of new and improved designs for vehicles or everyday products. If any of these or similar activities describe you, then you may have the innate curiosity that all of the jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics cluster require.

Science careers include jobs in biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, or any other natural, physical, or earth science. Mathematics is the science and study of numbers and how they relate to each other. Engineering and technology encompasses many areas of study, such as aviation, environmental science, and robotics, just to name a few. All of these engineering fields employ unique and sometimes similar methods of research, development, and production to reach practical solutions to problems and questions.

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16. Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics Career Cluster

Transportation Distribution and Logistics Career ClusterThe jobs in this cluster deal with the safe and efficient movement of people and goods from one place to another. This can entail delivering packages via a shipment service such as UPS or FedEx, planning the distribution of a business’s products from its warehouses to stores and customers, or driving a taxi around busy city streets, ensuring that passengers safely arrive at their destinations.

The transportation industry includes air, rail, road, and water travel, and its core business are transporting passengers and moving freight. Distribution refers primarily to the management of warehouse and other large storage centers, and the movement of items in and out of the facility. Logistics refers to the planning aspect of this line of work, that is, creating and revising the schedules and plans that ensure the timely delivery of passengers and goods to their destinations.

Each branch of this career cluster employs workers in a variety of positions, from managers who coordinate shipping schedules to freight handlers to customer service representatives to conductors and even safety inspectors. Many workers are needed just to operate and maintain the various means of transportation, such as drivers, pilots, mechanics, and engineers.

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By reading about different clusters, you can begin to get an idea of the types of careers that might best suit your skills and interests.

According to Wikipedia, the Career Cluster initiative began in 1996 in the U.S. as the Building Linkages Initiative and was a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), the National School-to-Work Office (NSTWO) and the National Skill Standards Board (NSSB). The purpose of the Initiative was to establish linkages among State educational agencies, secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, employers, industry groups, other stakeholders and Federal agencies. The goal was to create curricular frameworks in broad career clusters, designed to prepare students to transition successfully from high school to postsecondary education and employment in a career area.

The creation of curricular models within the context of broad career clusters ensures the alignment of academic and technical insinstructionaltructional strategies with the requirements of postsecondary education and the expectations of employers in increasingly academic and technologically demanding careers. The vocational education field has historically responded to the needs of the national economy by preparing individuals to put jobs in demand.