The 16 Career Clusters
Updated 5 November 2020
What Is a Career Cluster?
The National Career Clusters Framework consists of 16 career clusters and was created by the US Department of Education to help organize all major occupations and technical education courses into logical groups.
People may recognize the 16 career clusters as they are commonly presented as options in drop-down menus when a user is required to select their profession.
It’s worth noting that the career clusters are not grouped by career interests, they are grouped by industry, so a particular career may feature in more than one list if it spans across sectors.
How Are Career Clusters Used?
Rather than focusing on one narrow career path and limiting a student’s potential, considering an entire career cluster can open up possibilities and introduce someone to job roles of which they may have been previously unaware.
Each career cluster has a wide range of jobs within it, all based on similar skills and qualifications.
For those people not yet ready to pinpoint an exact career path, they can take the subject areas that interest them and find the general area of work to which they may be well suited.
The candidate may already possess transferable skills suitable for that area of work, or they may be looking to ascertain which skills they need to work on to be successful in a career within that cluster.
The career clusters are used across the US, and some states have adapted them or added one or two additional clusters to reflect the job opportunities in their local area.
For example, Florida, Texas and Michigan all have an additional career cluster: Energy.
Understanding the 16 career clusters can help give students the guidance and direction to decide which qualifications they need to work towards to pursue the career of their choice.
What Are the 16 Career Clusters?
The original 16 career clusters are used as a national guide, and although individual states may have modified the cluster system, the foundation remains the same.
1. Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources
This cluster educates the student about all aspects and areas of agriculture.
This covers a wide breadth of commodities such as animal products, wood products, horticulture and food.
In a practical sense, these careers often involve outdoor work, usually of a manual nature.
Specific examples of outdoor jobs could be:
- Dairy farmer
- Farm laborers
In contrast to this, there is also a more technical and strategic side to work in this cluster.
Students can train to be water resource specialists, biological technicians and zoologists, among many other professions.
2. Architecture & Construction
This cluster focuses on the collection of careers involved in the designing, planning and building of residential and commercial properties, including the legal and legislative aspects of the industry.
Other careers within this cluster involve hands-on training like plumbing, carpentry and electrical engineering.
3. Arts, A/V (Audio/Video) Technology & Communications
This cluster covers an extensive range of careers (the skillset required to become an actor is vastly different to that needed for a sound engineer, for example).
Generally speaking, if a career is in any way related to the entertainment industry, it can be placed into this cluster.
At a concert, the performers on stage, the sound and lighting engineers, the stage crew, and the camera operators will all fall into this category.
4. Business, Management & Administration
As the name suggests, this career cluster contains the career paths related to business, spanning across a range of difficulties and areas.
The necessary skills required for a job within this niche are good communication, organization and intelligence.
Many of the roles within this cluster are high-level roles that require advanced study and training.
These might include:
- Financial analyst
- Human resource specialist
A Master's in Business Administration (MBA) is particularly useful for careers in this area.
5. Education & Training
This career cluster is rather self-explanatory, with many obvious jobs such as teaching, lecturing and training included.
The skills needed to excel in this area are patience, organization and enthusiasm for learning as a concept.
Outside of official educational establishments, other kinds of educational and training roles can include:
- Driving instructors
- English as a second language (ESL) teachers
Many roles within this cluster may require an advanced level of education and, specifically, a teacher training degree.
All US states require at least a bachelor’s degree to teach, with some also demanding a master’s degree.
A high level of education and understanding of mathematics is crucial for work within this industry.
To reflect the challenging nature of the work, the pay is often excellent, and the opportunity for progression within many of these fields is high.
Every industry needs finance experts, so there is scope for diversifying beyond the initial finance role.
7. Government & Public Administration
In the US, government work can be undertaken on either a Federal level or a state level.
The complexity of any government means that there are a wide variety of job roles within any government organization, with a mix of people from all sorts of educational and training backgrounds working together for a common goal.
Government work is also considered more stable and secure than private work, with generous health and retirement benefits and more vacation allowance.
8. Health Science
For students interested in an occupation in the medical field, the health science cluster provides an overview of the range of jobs on offer.
These careers span a breadth of educational levels, with some roles requiring no prior experience or training, just a friendly and caring attitude.
Health science is the fastest-growing cluster of careers in the US, so a career in this area provides some degree of job stability.
9. Hospitality & Tourism
The hospitality industry is known as a rewarding yet demanding field in which to work. Customer expectations are high and day-to-day working life can be very busy.
Broadly speaking, this cluster can be broken down into the restaurant, accommodation, recreation and travel trades.
Examples of careers within the hospitality and tourism industries include:
- Travel agents
- Restaurant managers
- Wait staff
The range of jobs available means that students with minimal educational qualifications or experience can often find work.
10. Human Services
Human services is the name given to the cluster of careers that focus on supporting families and communities to thrive.
A sociology major leads perfectly into a career within this field of expertise.
Soft skills are also incredibly important, and a caring and positive approach is a good asset for this work that affects peoples’ lives.
Examples of careers in this cluster include:
- Social work
- Substance abuse treatment
- Clinical psychology
Personal care services such as massage, fitness and skincare also fall within this cluster.
11. Information Technology
The US information technology industry is booming, particularly in states such as California, Texas and New York.
Computer science majors are likely to find a suitable career path within this cluster.
Although educational attainment is valuable in this industry, technical skills and certifications are also an important way to demonstrate competence.
The IT industry can be incredibly lucrative, and as such, competition for jobs can be high.
12. Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security
Encompassing all roles that protect and serve the public, this cluster represents a wide range of careers.
Employers include government services such as correctional institutes and law enforcement, and private companies such as security and law firms.
To work in these industries, a candidate must be an honest person who acts with integrity at all times, as many of the roles are positions of trust.
Some careers in this field require high-level qualifications, such as lawyers, judges and paralegals.
Roles requiring specific training rather than educational qualifications include security guards, bailiffs and lifeguards.
The manufacturing career cluster covers the various roles involved in the manufacture of all sorts of goods, from medical equipment to foodstuffs.
The manufacturing process consists of planning, production, engineering and maintenance, and career paths can touch on any one of these areas.
Manufacturing is an incredibly diverse industry. People who choose this career path could be working on a nuclear energy project, designing detail for a bespoke cabinet maker or a range of other interesting processes.
Analytical and methodical characters are well suited to work in the manufacturing world.
14. Marketing, Sales & Service
Educational qualifications are not imperative for many roles within this cluster. Instead, creativity, passion and innovation are all valued characteristics that can lead to a successful career.
For those who do obtain qualifications in marketing, strategic and specialist roles can be well paid and challenging.
For those wishing to pursue a career in sales, a positive and proactive approach is vital, and these attributes can be very lucrative for the right candidates.
Specific job roles within this cluster include:
- PR specialists
- Advertising sales agents
15. Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
This technical and forward-thinking cluster of careers generally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Covering areas such as environmental science, chemical engineering and mathematics, this group of career paths require high caliber, intelligent candidates.
16. Transportation, Distribution & Logistics
The careers within this cluster revolve around the movement of products, materials or people by air, water, rail or road.
The logistics process involves planning, management and refinement at all stages.
Depending on the level of education, skillset and training, candidates can work anywhere along this process.
Some roles are more technical than others, with pay levels to match. At the higher end of the scale are pilots and engineers, with drivers and parking lot attendants at the lower end.
The companies that employ people in the transportation, distribution and logistics industry range from small local family firms to large global organizations with plenty of scope for progression.
Within the career clusters, there are subcategories called career pathways.
These are routes to each different group of job roles within that cluster.
For example, the 'transportation, distribution and logistics' career cluster has the following eight career pathways:
- Logistics planning and management
- Facility and mobile equipment maintenance
- Sales and service
- Infrastructure planning, management and regulation
- Transportation systems
- Transportation operations
- Warehousing and distribution center operations
- Health, safety and environmental management
Once a student has identified a career cluster that they’d like to pursue, understanding the career pathways within that cluster can lead them further towards achieving the career most suited to them.
Where Can You Find More Information About Different Careers?
A school or college careers advisory service is a good place to start learning about the options available to students.
Careers fairs are particularly useful for exploring all the different options available.
Once a student has an idea of the area in which they’d like to work, an internship provides valuable insights into the everyday realities of that industry.
Deciding on a career path is a crucial decision that can affect the rest of a person’s life.
For this reason, students are encouraged to think carefully about their attributes, personality, skills and qualifications to determine the best path for them.
Once someone is aware of a route they’d like to take, they can then carry out further research into the specific careers, finding out the qualifications they need to pursue to become an eligible candidate.
The 16 career clusters are a great starting point for gaining an overview of the types of work available and how they fit together to create the industries that employ the working population.