The 17 Career Clusters

Career clusters help students investigate careers and design their courses of study to advance their career goals. For this reason, Virginia has adopted the nationally accepted structure of career clusters, career pathways, and sample career specialties or occupations, as well as created a 17th energy cluster.

A career cluster is a grouping of occupations and broad industries based on commonalities. Within each career cluster, there are multiple career pathways that represent a common set of skills and knowledge, both academic and technical, necessary to pursue a full range of career opportunities within that pathway – ranging from entry level to management, including technical and professional career specialties. Based on the skills sets taught, all CTE courses are aligned with one or more career clusters and career pathways.

Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources

The agriculture, food, and natural resources cluster is about using your love of science, the environment or animals to prepare for careers that involve improving the quality and safety of food, cultivating and preserving our natural resources, and caring for animals.  Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry, with an economic impact of $52 billion each year and providing over 300,000 jobs.

The veterinary medicine field has grown considerably due to advancements in medicine, which are comparable to healthcare for humans. Job positions in this field range from large and companion-animal veterinarians to research veterinarians, who work in laboratories. Environmental engineers will be needed to help deal with environmental laws, such as state and federal regulations regarding emissions from coal-fired power plants. This occupation also should see a wave of retirements, which will increase job opportunities for younger workers. Landscape architect positions are expected to increase due to new commercial, industrial, and residential construction projects, as well as the required maintenance of existing facilities.

Architecture and Construction

The architecture and construction cluster is about using your skills in design, planning, and management to work in careers building and maintaining structures such as buildings, homes, bridges, or machinery. Work opportunities include developing new structures, restorations, additions, alterations, and repairs. Construction is the pathway with the highest number of employment opportunities.

Civil engineers – who work on construction projects in the public and private sector – should see prospects grow due to many factors, including the need to upgrade aging infrastructure and an increase in renewable energy projects. Carpenters also should see favorable job prospects.  As the population grows, more homes will need to be built, which will drive the need for carpenters. Home remodeling needs also will drive the demand for carpenters. An increase in construction jobs over the next decade should increase the need for architects. Architects with strong technical skills and knowledge of sustainable, or “green,” design will have better job prospects.

Arts, A/V Technology & Communications

The arts, A/V technology, and communications cluster is about flexing your creativity, design, writing, performing, and multimedia skills. Prepare for careers from graphic design to broadcast journalism through a focus on advanced technologies used in venues including corporate boardrooms, hotels and convention centers, classrooms, and museums.

Technical writers, also called technical communicators, are responsible for helping others understand complex technical information or how to use technology products and their employment is expected to increase. Growth and changes in technology and electronics in the home and workplace will increase demand for technical writers. Photographers should see job prospects grow. Self-employed photographers will increase due to demands from individuals wishing to have portraits taken and corporations seeking photographs for marketing materials. Career prospects for producers and directors are expected to increase as a result of new content delivery methods – such as watching TV online or on a mobile device – and the popularity of reality television.

Business Management and Administration

Business management and administration careers use your organizational and leadership skills to prepare for careers where you plan, direct and evaluate operations to run a successful business. There are a variety of career opportunities available including hiring staff, analyzing data, and launching your own start-up. This career cluster employs the largest number of workers in Virginia.

Employment of top executives is expected to grow and will largely depend on what industry the executive works in. Top executives are tasked with running companies, organizations, and departments, making their essential. Companies will continue to need receptionists to perform administrative tasks, such as answering phones, receiving visitors, and providing general information about their organizations. The employment of receptionists is expected to grow and will be particularly fueled by the healthcare industries, especially physicians’ and dentists’ offices. There also will be a higher need for customer service representatives in the coming years. Call centers are expected to add the most customer service representative jobs.

Education and Training

The education and training cluster is about using your ability to motivate and your love of people to provide education and training that reaches individuals of all ages and across a range of industries. Careers include teaching in a classroom, leading as a college president, and serving in your community as a social worker.

Increased enrollment in middle schools and larger class sizes should increase employment of middle school teachers. During this time period a number of older teachers are expected to retire, which is expected to improve job prospects for younger educators. Employment also is expected to increase for preschool teachers due to higher enrollment. The increased emphasis on early childhood education is driving the demand for pre-school teachers. Job prospects should be better for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and those who have prior experience working with preschool-aged children. Sports are increasingly becoming more popular, which is generating the need for coaches and scouts.  With the popularity of athletic programs in high schools and colleges, coaches will be needed to train student athletes.


The energy cluster uses your interests in helping people and passion for your community to prepare for careers in the energy sectors. Energy workers find rewarding experience in keeping the energy flowing. Responsibilities may include accessing natural resources used as fuel, directly assisting the utility and non-utility generation of power, constructing, operating and maintaining infrastructure such as power lines, power and pipeline construction, fuel distribution, and the manufacture of electrical transmission equipment such as solar and wind equipment. The cluster also deals with energy efficiency and sustainability.

Hiring of energy efficiency jobs makes up the larger portion of state total energy workers. Job prospects will be good those employed in transmission, distribution and energy storage. Electric power generation jobs in solar and traditional fossil fuel generation are in demand. Fossil fuels make up the largest segment of employment related to fuels; however, alternative power is in high demand.


The finance cluster is about using your skills in math and statistics to prepare for well-paying careers in financial and investment planning, banking, insurance, and business financial management. Every part of the economy offers a career in this field, providing endless opportunities to work in a variety of areas.

The hiring of loan officers – workers responsible for evaluating, authorizing, or recommending approval of loan applications – is expected to increase. Applicants with lending, banking, or sales experience should have better job prospects in this field. More accountant and auditor positions also are likely to open up. Factors that may drive growth include stricter laws and regulations in the financial sector and continued globalization, which may drive demand for accounting services related to international trade and international mergers and acquisitions. The aging population is expected to increase the need for personal financial advisers. Since pensions are no longer the norm, many people are seeking the advice of financial advisers when opening personal retirement accounts.

Government & Public Administration

The government and public administration cluster is about using your passion for public service to prepare to work in a diverse array of jobs found in local, state, and federal government. Virtually every occupation can be found within this field. You may help protect our country, represent our interests abroad, or pass and enforce laws.

Employment of financial examiners is expected to grow due to the increase in financial regulations is expected to increase the number of these workers. The creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011 has helped fuel jobs for financial examiners in recent years. The agency makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies are treating consumers fairly. Interpreters and translators should see  job growth due to increasing globalization, including immigration and international trade. Those who speak frequently translated languages, such as French and Spanish, will see the most demand for jobs. Hiring of real estate appraisers and assessors is expected to increase driven by population increases and economic expansion, which are expected to increase the need for property.

Health Science

The health science cluster is about using your love of science to help keep people healthy and treat those who are not. Work directly with people as a doctor or physical therapist or on your own by conducting research on diseases and other important health information. This field allows you to work in diverse environments such as hospitals, medical and dental offices, or labs.

An aging population is expected to increase so will the need for radiation therapists. Advancements in cancer treatment and detection also should boost the need for radiation therapists. There also will be a need for new nurses with an increase in the employment of registered nurses.  The expected increase in jobs is due to many reasons, including an older population that is likely to have more medical problems, and growing access to health care due to federal health insurance reform. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics also should have favorable job prospects. Paramedics and EMTs will continue to be needed to care for sick and injured people during emergencies.

Hospitality & Tourism

Hospitality and tourism encompasses the management, marketing and operations of restaurants and other food services, lodging, attractions, recreation events, and travel related services.

There should be a greater need for chefs and head cooks as the population grows and people’s incomes increase. It is becoming more common for consumers to demand healthier food at restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores, so experienced chefs will be needed to help prepare these meals. Recreation workers lead leisure activities in recreation facilities, including playgrounds, parks, camps, and aquatic centers. As more resources are put toward fighting childhood obesity, more recreation workers will be needed to help guide children through physical activities. The need for food service managers is expected to increase because people will continue to eat out during this time period, so managers will be needed to supervise food establishments.

Human Services

The human services cluster uses your skills in communication and problem solving to provide support to families and individuals with services from working in early childhood care to providing mental health services for older adults. This diverse career cluster allows you to work in a variety of settings including health care, spas, schools, and community centers.

It is expected that more social workers will be needed in the coming years.  There should be an even greater need for mental health and substance misuse social workers. This is partly due to the fact that drug offenders are increasingly being sent to treatment programs, as opposed to jail, where they are treated by social workers.  The massage therapy industry also should see a boost in workers. In recent years the popularity of massage clinic franchises has increased, offering consumers more affordable massages, and increasing the need for massage therapists. Job prospects will be better for massage therapists who are licensed in states that require it. However, professionals entering the field should also be aware that it takes time to build a client base. 

Information Technology

The information technology cluster uses your love of technology to learn how to design, develop and manage different types of software and hardware programs. Though this field requires a solid foundation in math and science as well as strong technical skills, there are careers in information technology in virtually every part of the economy.

Employment of computer and information research scientists is expected to increase. The demand for new and better technology will continue to grow, which will increase the employment of such workers. These professionals also will be needed to combat cyber-attacks, which are posing a larger threat to society. There should be a greater need for database administrators in the next decade. As companies store more data, these workers will be needed to manage the data so that analysts and stakeholders can understand it. Software developers also should see good job prospects. Mobile devices and tablets are becoming more popular, so software developers are increasingly needed to develop and upgrade mobile applications. Overall, more consumer products use software, which will drive the need for developers.

Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security

The law, public safety, corrections, and security cluster uses your love of people and passion for your community to prepare for careers in law, public safety and security. Responsibilities may include protecting people from harm, crime, or natural disasters. Job opportunities range from public safety officers to legal services.

Hiring of firefighters is expected to grow. Job prospects will be better for firefighters who have industry certifications and firefighter and paramedic training. The continued need for legal services will mean more lawyers will need to be hired in the next few years.  Attorneys may not necessarily work at law firms. Corporations and the federal government sometimes choose to hire lawyers on staff to save money.  Security guards will remain an important part of our workforce in the coming years to help protect people and property from criminals, vandalism, and terrorism.


The manufacturing cluster uses your skills in planning and organization along with your love of technology, engineering and design to work in careers processing materials into products. Careers also include related professional and technical support activities such as production planning, production design, maintenance, and engineering.

The employment of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers is expected to grow. These workers will be needed to help repair our nation’s aging infrastructure, including bridges, highways, and buildings. New power generation facilities and natural gas pipelines also are being built, which will increase the need for these professionals. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters should see even better job prospects also. More machinists and tool and die makers also will be needed in the coming years. Overall, the manufacturing industry is facing a major skill gap due to the retirement of older workers. Applicants who are trained in manufacturing skills should have better job prospects.


The marketing cluster flexes your creative skills for a career in advertising, public relations, sales, or planning. This career cluster will prepare you to work on projects such as promotional campaigns, event planning, and new sales techniques.

Market research analysts are expected to have favorable job prospects.  Businesses will need more data and market research to understand consumer behavior, which will drive higher employment for market research analysts. More marketing managers will continue to be needed to plan, direct, and coordinate promotional campaigns. Employment of public relations (PR) specialists also is expected to rise due to the increased use of social media. PR specialists can help clients use social media sites, like Twitter and Instagram, effectively.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

The science, technology, engineering, and mathematics cluster uses your abilities in problem solving and prepares for careers using science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. People in this career cluster conduct in-depth research to provide solutions to a variety of technical problems within many different fields. A post-secondary degree and relevant work experience are necessary to succeed in this field.

Employment of mechanical engineers is expected to increase, although that will vary by industry. The fields of alternative energies, nanotechnology, and remanufacturing are promising job areas for mechanical engineers. Mechanical engineers trained in the latest software will have better job prospects. The next decade also should see a larger need for biological technicians. These technicians play a vital role in helping scientists and researchers develop new treatments for diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Hiring of architectural and engineering managers should increase with the growth being dependent on the industries in which the managers work. Job applicants in this field should have better prospects if they have technical knowledge, good communication skills, and years of work experience.

Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

The transportation, distribution, and logistics cluster uses your knowledge of mechanics, mathematics and design to work in careers you plan, manage and move everything from people to company products through a range of transportation services. In this field, you are involved in the logistics of all modes of transportation from road to rail to air to water.

As people continue to rely on automobiles, more automotive service technicians will be needed to perform maintenance on vehicles. Many employers in the automotive field have a difficult time finding qualified technicians, so applicants with training or certifications should have better job prospects. Employment of airline and commercial pilots is expected to grow. Regional airlines and nonscheduled aviation services will provide the most job opportunities. Pilots seeking employment with major airlines will face strong competition and may require additional education and training.

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