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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | CTE Career Clusters

What are the California CTE Career Pathways?

January 27th, 2022 | 21 min. read

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In the United States, career technical education (CTE) is found in every state and most school districts.

On the national level, CTE is made up of 16 career pathways that each state uses as a foundation for its own CTE programs. From that foundation, each state tweaks those pathways to fit the needs of their workforce -- sometimes adding, changing, or removing certain pathways.

In California, CTE is made up of 15 career pathways:

  1. Agriculture and Natural Resources
  2. Arts, Media, & Entertainment
  3. Building & Construction Trades
  4. Business & Finance
  5. Education, Child Development, & Family Services
  6. Energy, Environment, & Utilities
  7. Engineering & Architecture
  8. Fashion & Interior Design
  9. Health Science & Medical Technology
  10. Hospitality, Tourism, & Recreation
  11. Information & Communication Technologies
  12. Manufacturing & Product Design
  13. Marketing, Sales, & Services
  14. Public Services
  15. Transportation

On this page, we’ll discuss the details of each career pathway to see how California approaches CTE compared to the rest of the country.

We’ll also give some insight into the next big thing for CTE in California.

But first, let’s take a look at how CTE works in California.

California Career Technical Education


The California Department of Education (CDE) has a large focus on CTE programs. The ultimate goal of CTE programs in California is to have a strong, capable workforce that continues to build upon itself.

“We seek the day when every enterprise in California -- public and private -- has access to a pool of talent that both attracts the world’s leading business and hastens the development and success of new ones, creating opportunities for all.”

Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

To meet this goal, each pathway in California has dedicated CTE model curriculum standards that ensure students across the state all learn the same information, no matter where they go to school.

In addition to the pathway-specific standards, all CTE programs must meet California’s Standards for Career Ready Practice.

These standards “describe the fundamental knowledge and skills that a career-ready student needs in order to prepare for transition to postsecondary education, career training, or the workforce.”

To help teachers and administrators hit these goals and prepare students for the workforce, the CDE provides a number of resources.

In addition, students interested in CTE programs have opportunities to join a career technical student organization.

Overall, with clear standards and an abundance of resources, it’s clear that CTE is in full force in California!

Now that you have an idea of how CTE works in California, let’s dive into the 15 career pathways.

1. Agriculture & Natural Resources


The Agriculture & Natural Resources (ANR) pathway is California’s version of the national Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources career cluster.

The California ANR pathways has the same number of subsections as the national version. However, they have slightly different focuses:

  1. Agricultural Business
  2. Agricultural Mechanics
  3. Agriscience
  4. Animal Science
  5. Forestry & Natural Resources
  6. Ornamental Horticulture
  7. Plant & Soil Science

California has a large focus on agricultural education and requires all programs to consist of three components: classroom instruction, leadership activities, and supervised agricultural experience projects.

The CTSO connected with the ANR pathways is the California FFA Association, which is a state-specific version of the National FFA Organization.

2. Arts, Media, & Entertainment


The Arts, Media, & Entertainment (AME) pathway is similar to the national Arts, A/V Technology, & Communications cluster. However, the California pathway only has four subsections:

  1. Design, Visual, & Media Arts
  2. Performing Arts
  3. Production & Managerial Arts
  4. Game Design & Integration

Each subsection has a number of courses that are put into three buckets: introduction, concentration, and capstone.

In addition, depending on the occupation a student desires within the AME pathway, they will need to go on and earn a certification or degree.

Unlike the ANR pathway, there is no CTSO for students interested in arts, media, and entertainment.

3. Building & Construction Trades


The Building & Construction Trades (BCT) pathway in California is vastly different when compared to the national career cluster. California splits building and construction into four career areas:

  1. Cabinetry, Millwork, & Woodworking
  2. Engineering & Heavy Construction
  3. Mechanical Systems Installation & Repair
  4. Residential & Commercial Construction

In addition, California segments BCT as part of a larger program called Industrial & Technology Education (ITE).

There is no CTSO specific to careers in building and construction, but the CDE encourages students to join SkillsUSA California.

4. Business & Finance


The Business & Finance pathway in California is a combination of two national clusters. Even encompassing two national career clusters, this pathway only has three subsections:

  1. Business Management
  2. Financial Services
  3. International Business

Another difference from the national level is that the Business & Finance pathway is part of a larger program called Business & Marketing Education.

The CTSO for students in the Business & Finance pathway is California Future Business Leaders of America (CA FBLA).

5. Education, Child Development, & Family Services


Similar to the previous pathway, the Education, Child Development, & Family Services (ECDFS) pathway is a combination of two national career clusters. This is shown in the four subsections of the pathway:

  1. Child Development
  2. Consumer Services
  3. Education
  4. Family & Human Services

In addition, the ECDFS pathway falls under the umbrella program of Family & Consumer Sciences Education (FCS).

The most relevant CTSO for students in this pathway is the California Family, Career, & Community Leaders of America (CA FCCLA).

6. Energy, Environment, & Utilities


The Energy, Environment, & Utilities cluster is unique to California. Students in this pathway learn knowledge and skills related to three areas:

  1. Environmental Resources
  2. Energy & Power Technology
  3. Telecommunications

Like the Building & Construction Trades pathway, this one falls under the larger ITE program.

Currently, there are no CTSOs for students to join in the Energy, Environment, & Utilities pathway.

7. Engineering & Architecture


In California, the Engineering & Architecture pathway is modeled after parts of two national career clusters. Courses in this pathway fall under four areas:

  1. Architectural Design
  2. Engineering Technology
  3. Engineering Design
  4. Environmental Engineering

As with the Energy, Environment, & Utilities cluster, this pathway falls into the ITE program and there are no relevant CTSOs.

8. Fashion & Interior Design


Another career pathway unique to California is Fashion & Interior Design. It is made up of three specific areas:

  1. Fashion Design & Merchandising
  2. Interior Design
  3. Personal Services

As with many other pathways, Fashion & Interior Design is part of the larger FCS program.

The CTSO most relevant for students interested in fashion and interior design is the CA FCCLA.

9. Health Science & Medical Technology


The Health Science & Medical Technology (HSMT) pathway is similar to the national health science career cluster.

The biggest difference is that California has six subsections while the national version has five:

  1. Biotechnology
  2. Patient Care
  3. Health Care Administrative Services
  4. Health Care Operational Support Services
  5. Public & Community Health
  6. Mental & Behavioral Health

California has a huge focus on health careers education. The ultimate goal of the program is for students to start building their path to health care careers as early as kindergarten!

Students in the HSMT pathway can join the California HOSA (Cal-HOSA), a state-specific version of the national HOSA-Future Health Professionals organization.

10. Hospitality, Tourism, & Recreation


The Hospitality, Tourism, & Recreation pathway in California closely aligns to the national Hospitality & Tourism cluster. The main difference is that California only has three subsections:

  1. Food Science, Dietetics, & Nutrition
  2. Food Service & Hospitality
  3. Hospitality, Tourism, & Recreation

Just like the Fashion & Interior Design pathway, the Hospitality, Tourism, & Recreation pathway falls under the California FCS program.

The most relevant CTSO for students interested in hospitality and tourism related careers is the CA FCCLA.

11. Information & Communication Technologies


The California Information & Communication Technologies pathway is very similar to the national Information Technology career cluster.

The pathway is made up of four subsections:

  1. Information Support & Services
  2. Networking
  3. Software & Systems Development
  4. Games & Simulations

There are no CTSOs in California related to careers in information and communication technologies.

12. Manufacturing & Product Design


The Manufacturing & Product Design pathway is California’s version of the national Manufacturing career cluster, but it’s adjusted to meet the needs in California.

Rather than six areas, California lists four:

  1. Graphic Production Technologies
  2. Machining & Forming Technologies
  3. Welding & Materials Joining
  4. Product innovation & Design

Like the Engineering & Architecture pathway, Manufacturing & Product Design is part of the ITE program and there are no relevant CTSOs.

13. Marketing, Sales, & Services


The California Marketing, Sales, & Services pathway is very similar to the national Marketing career cluster. However, the California pathway is more focused on three specific areas:

  1. Marketing
  2. Professional Sales
  3. Entrepreneurship / Self-Employment

In addition, this pathway is part of the overarching Business & Marketing Education program in California.

The most relevant CTSO for students in the Marketing, Sales, & Services pathway is California DECA.

14. Public Services


The Public Services pathway is California’s version of the national Law, Public Safety, Corrections, & Security career cluster. However, in California there are only three subsections:

  1. Public Safety
  2. Emergency Response
  3. Legal Practices

The CDE recommends students in the Public Services pathway join the SkillsUSA California CTSO.

15. Transportation


California’s Transportation pathway is a more focused version of the national Transportation, Distribution, & Logistics career cluster. At the national level, the cluster is made up of seven subsections. In California, it’s focused on three areas:

  1. Operations
  2. Structural Repair & Refinishing
  3. Systems Diagnostics, Service, & Repair

Like a number of other pathways, Transportation is part of the larger ITE program and there are no relevant CTSOs.

Need to Keep Your CTE Students Engaged?

No matter which of these CTE pathways you teach, keeping your students engaged is key to ensuring they learn the skills they need to succeed in their careers. However, many California CTE teachers feel they have to sacrifice hours and hours of personal time creating exciting course material that grabs their students’ attention. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you want to engage your students while saving yourself hours of work every week, check out this guide on strategies to grab student focus in CTE classrooms

This guide provides an in-depth exploration of why student engagement matters, what hurts it, and how factors like technology can actually be used to help students better pay attention. Along the way, you’ll gain valuable insight from educators, students, and instructional designers:


Get Your eBook: Boost Engagement in Your Classroom