Exploring Career Clusters to Find Your Path

Updated January 20, 2022
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A career cluster is a category of related occupations. The phrase "career clusters" is used to describe the 16 occupational categories that make up the National Career Clusters® Framework. Career and technical education (CTE) programs are organized within this framework, so it also makes sense to talk about occupations in terms of how they fit into the career clusters. Explore the 16 career clusters to identify broad career categories that match your interests, then get a sense of what types of jobs fall within each cluster.

Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources

The agriculture, food, and natural resources career cluster includes a wide variety of agriculture and agriscience careers, as well as other occupations that involve working with or conserving natural resources. Some jobs in this field involve working outdoors with your hands, while others involve conducting scientific research in laboratory settings. Jobs in this career cluster include positions like:

Female gardener working in garden center
  • Farmer/rancher
  • Horticulturist
  • Botanist
  • Food scientist
  • Forestry professional
  • Wildlife protection officer

Architecture and Construction

The architecture and construction career cluster includes jobs related to the design, building, maintenance, and management of commercial and residential properties. Architects must have a degree in the field and be licensed. For most other occupations in this cluster, apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training are common. Examples of jobs in this field include:

Construction workers behind blueprints and laptop on construction site
  • Architect
  • Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) operator
  • Surveyor
  • Site developer
  • Electrician
  • Construction worker

Arts, A/V Technology, and Communications

Creative people who love using their talents to entertain and inform others are drawn to jobs in this career cluster. Formal education, such as a degree in communication or a specific field of artistic endeavor, is often required and always beneficial for jobs in this field. There are a number of in-demand careers in the arts and communication-related fields like gaming and film production. Examples of jobs within this area include roles like:

Producer and Professional Audio Engineer Working together in Music Recording Studio
  • Journalist
  • Commercial artist
  • Performing artist
  • Computer animation
  • Sound technician
  • Videographer

Business, Management, and Administration

The business, management, and administration cluster is a broad category that includes the various types of jobs that are required to operate a business. Not all jobs in this cluster require a degree or formal training, but many employers prefer to hire people with degrees. Some roles do require a specific credential. For example, working as a Certified Public Accountant requires higher education beyond a bachelor's degree plus a license. Jobs in the business cluster include:

Business Meeting
  • Operations manager
  • Supervisor
  • Human resources professional
  • Administrative assistant
  • Accountant
  • Comptroller

Education and Training

If you're patient and enjoy helping others, working in the education field can be a rewarding experience. K-12 teachers must hold at least a bachelor's degree and a teaching license. Most postsecondary teaching jobs require a graduate degree, though having hands-on experience is more important than higher education for those who teach in trade schools or provide workplace training.

  • K-12 teacher
  • Teacher's aide
  • College professor or instructor
  • Trade school instructor
  • Corporate trainer
  • English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instructor

Finance

As you might expect, being successful in finance-related careers requires strong analytics skills and meticulous attention to detail. If you want to work in the finance field, it's a good idea to get a degree in finance or business administration. Some jobs in this cluster also require specialized certifications. For example, mortgage professionals must be licensed, and securities professionals need a Series 6 and/or Series 7 credential. Examples of jobs in the finance career cluster include:

Financial auditor
  • Credit analyst
  • Banker
  • Financial advisor
  • Insurance broker
  • Finance manager
  • Mortgage originator

Government and Public Administration

The government and public administration career cluster encompass jobs that involve carrying out various governmental functions. There are opportunities to work in government and public administration at the federal or local level. People who want to work in this cluster often study public administration or political science in college, but other fields are also acceptable. Common government and public administration roles include jobs like:

Business People Working in The Office
  • City planner
  • City engineer
  • County administrator
  • Agency administrator
  • Chief of staff
  • Grants administrator

Health Science

Health science careers encompass all aspects of the medical field, including positions that involve direct patient care as well as behind-the-scenes roles in fields like biotechnology and healthcare informatics. All but the most entry-level health science occupations require completing rigorous higher education programs and getting specialized licenses. Health science jobs include:

Scientist analyzing medical sample in laboratory
  • Doctor
  • Nurse
  • Ultrasound technician
  • Pharmacist
  • Pharmaceutical researcher
  • Biomedical researcher

Hospitality and Tourism

The hospitality and tourism career cluster focuses on jobs related to travel, tourism, food service, and special events. While formal education is not always required to enter this field, it can be beneficial to earn a degree or certificate in hospitality management, travel and tourism, or culinary arts. Examples of jobs in this career cluster include:

Young businesswoman arriving at the hotel and filling in registration documents at reception desk
  • Hotel manager
  • Travel agent
  • Event planner
  • Tour operator
  • Restaurant manager
  • Chef

Human Services

The human services career cluster refers to jobs with the primary purpose of helping other people. This cluster includes careers in various mental health and sociology-related occupations, as well as positions that relate to child advocacy and community services for individuals and families. Most of the jobs in this cluster require advanced degrees and licenses, though some entry-level roles only require basic training. Examples of jobs in the human services career cluster include:

Counselor in section
  • Social worker
  • Case manager
  • Counselor
  • Therapist
  • Psychologist
  • Group home aide

Information Technology

Jobs in information technology (IT) deal with computer hardware, software, and systems integration. Technical expertise is the key to success in this career cluster. For many IT jobs, employers tend to value specialty-specific professional certification more than higher education. Even so, many high-level jobs do require a degree. It's a good idea to at least complete a short-term training program if you want to enter this field. Examples of jobs in the IT cluster include:

Web developer interacting with colleagues
  • Network administrator
  • Database administrator
  • Computer support specialist
  • Web developer
  • Software/app developer
  • Computer forensics technician

Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security

The law, public safety, corrections, and security cluster encompasses jobs related to protecting the public and enforcing laws. Jobs in criminal justice fall into this cluster, along with other occupations that focus primarily on public safety. Most jobs in this cluster are public sector positions, though some roles in this cluster are with private sector employers. Examples of jobs in this career cluster include:

Police officer standing by patrol car
  • Police officer
  • Corrections officer
  • State trooper
  • Border patrol agent
  • Firefighter
  • Paramedics

Manufacturing

Any job that involves producing goods from raw materials or component parts is part of the manufacturing cluster. Skill-based trade training is generally the best path of entry for manufacturing jobs. Some employers offer on-the-job training or apprenticeship programs. Community colleges and trade schools often offer training programs designed to meet the needs of local manufacturers. Examples include:

Factory workers building engines on assembly line
  • Sheet metal worker
  • Assembly line worker
  • Machinist
  • Welder
  • Millwright
  • Quality control technician

Marketing

Rather than operating a business, people who work in marketing promote the goods and services that their employers provide. This career cluster allows people to use their creativity and communications skills to meet business objectives. Most marketing jobs require a degree in marketing, communication, public relations, or a related field. Some sales jobs do not necessarily require a degree. Examples include:

Marketing meeting
  • Marketing manager
  • Advertising manager
  • Account executive
  • Lead generator
  • Sales manager
  • Sales associate

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) area often involve cutting-edge research into new technological and scientific developments. These occupations require at least a bachelor's degree in a related field; many require a master's degree or higher. Jobs that require specialized expertise in any of the STEM fields fall into this category. Examples include:

Group of scientists in lab
  • Materials engineer
  • Oceanographer
  • Chemist
  • Geologist
  • Statistician
  • Environmental scientist

Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics

Jobs in the transportation, distribution and logistics cluster involve moving people, materials, and products by road, air, rail, and water. Not all jobs in this cluster require physically transporting items; some focus on planning, warehousing, ground support, and other areas of specialty that are required to be sure that people and items can get from where they are to where they need to be. Examples of career opportunities in this cluster include:

Female truck driver
  • Truck driver
  • Airplane pilot
  • Train operator
  • Dispatcher
  • Warehouse worker
  • Supply chain professional

Charting Your Career Path

Considering the various career clusters can be a good way to narrow your search for the perfect area of work. Think about this information in light of your interests and abilities, and use it to help guide you on your path to selecting your next occupation.

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