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16 Career Clusters to Help You Choose the Right Path

The perfect career for you lies at the intersection of your skills and interests. If you can find something you’re passionate about that you’re also good at, you’ll be set for life (or at least for the next few years). Sounds simple enough, right? There’s only one big problem: there are hundreds of thousands of different jobs. How can you find the one you’re interested in if you don’t even know it exists? The 16 career clusters can help. 

What are career clusters?

Career clusters are the core of the National Career Clusters Framework. They’re a tool designed to allow professionals to explore careers within different skill groups. 

There are 16 distinct career clusters defined by industry and the nature of the work. Within each cluster are various career pathways and, within those pathways, specific jobs. 

While the career clusters don’t cover every profession under the sun, they’re a very solid catalog to work with. If you have a basic inkling of what you’re interested in, they can help you develop a short list of job titles to research further and perhaps pursue as a career. 

We’ll outline the 16 career clusters below, define what type of work falls into each category and give you a list of some example professions in each cluster. 

The 16 career clusters

1. Agriculture, food & natural resources

This cluster focuses on creating, marketing, and distributing agricultural commodities. Those commodities include things like food, plant products, animal products, lumber, and other natural resources.

Many jobs within this career cluster require a bachelor’s degree, but others can be attained with a high school diploma and on-the-job training. A select set of agriculture, food, and natural resources positions like botanist or environmental engineer require a postsecondary degree. 

There are seven career pathways in this cluster:

  • Agribusiness Systems
  • Animal Systems
  • Environmental Service Systems
  • Food Products and Processing Systems
  • Natural Resources Systems
  • Plant Systems
  • Power, Structural and Technical Systems

Here are some examples of jobs within the agriculture, food & natural resources cluster:

2. Architecture & construction

People with jobs in this cluster design, plan, build and maintain homes, commercial buildings and other pieces of infrastructure like roads and bridges. 

There is a wide range of positions available for all education levels, from the structural engineers who design skyscrapers to the plumbers, electricians, and other tradespeople who carry out the plans.

This cluster contains three career pathways:

  • Construction
  • Design/Pre-Construction
  • Maintenance/Operations

Some jobs within the architecture & construction cluster include:

3. Arts, A/V technology & communications 

The shows you watch on television and the movies you see on the big screen are brought to you courtesy of professionals in the arts, A/V technology, and communications career cluster. People in this field are responsible for creating, producing, performing and publishing various media types. Journalists are also included in this category. 

This cluster has six career pathways:

  • Audio and Visual Technology and Film
  • Journalism and Broadcasting
  • Performing Arts
  • Printing Technology
  • Telecommunications
  • Visual Arts

This career cluster might be a good fit for you if these job titles sound appealing:

4. Business management & administration

This career cluster focuses on the planning, execution, direction, and evaluation of all types of business activities. People in this field usually work in an office setting. Positions range from entry-level jobs like sales associates all the way up to executive positions like CEO.

This career cluster contains five pathways:

  • Administrative Support
  • Business Information Management
  • General Management
  • Human Resources Management
  • Operations Management

There are a wide variety of positions in this field, including:

5. Education & training

The education & training cluster covers educators, like teachers and professors, as well as the administrators and support staff that keep educational institutions running. 

People in this field have a passion for teaching and a bachelor’s degree and, sometimes, a license in their area of specialization. Higher-level professionals in this cluster may hold a master’s or doctorate degree. 

The three career pathways in this cluster are:

  • Administration and Administrative Support
  • Professional Support Services
  • Teaching/Training

Some examples of jobs in this category include:

6. Finance

Are you the person all your friends turn to for financial advice? The finance career cluster may be for you if you love making and managing money. It covers services like banking, financial planning, investing, and financial management. 

It goes without saying that a strong interest in math is a prerequisite to succeed in this field. Most professions require a bachelor’s degree and/or specialized certifications, like a CPA.

The five career pathways in the finance cluster are:

  • Accounting
  • Banking services
  • Business finance
  • Insurance
  • Securities & Investments

Some of the jobs you can get in this sector are:

7. Government & public administration 

This cluster covers all people who work for the government at the local, state and federal level. In addition to making and carrying out laws, professionals in this cluster manage national security, foreign service, revenue and more. Elected officials, from city council members all the way up to the president of the United States, also fall within this category. 

Many jobs in this sector require a bachelor’s degree, while others require an advanced degree and some can be obtained with a high school diploma.

There are seven career pathways in this cluster:

  • Foreign Service
  • Governance
  • National Security
  • Planning
  • Public Management and Administration
  • Regulation
  • Revenue and Taxation

Government jobs bridge a wide range of professions, including:

  • Ambassador
  • Armed forces
  • City/town clerk
  • Economic development coordinator
  • Elected official
  • Equal opportunity officer
  • Lobbyist
  • Political advisor

8. Health science

The health science cluster covers the vast healthcare industry–clinical staff like doctors and nurses, administrative staff, and scientists who do research to make medical advances. Professionals in this field often start with a bachelor’s degree and go on to earn some of the most advanced degrees available to support their highly technical and impactful work. 

This is expected to be the fastest-growing sector, with strong and consistent job prospects over the next ten years. 

This cluster has five pathways:

  • Biotechnology Research and Development
  • Diagnostic Services
  • Health Informatics
  • Support Services
  • Therapeutic Services

Some examples of careers within this industry include:

9. Hospitality & tourism

The hospitality and tourism cluster covers jobs in food service, hotels, recreation and travel. Professionals within this cluster have a broad range of work environments, from the bustling kitchen of a busy restaurant to the ocean waves on a deep-sea fishing excursion. 

Many of the jobs within this field do not require a bachelor’s degree, but prioritize other skills like strong communication, customer service and fluency in multiple languages. 

You’ll find four career pathways in this cluster:

  • Lodging
  • Recreation, Amusements & Attractions
  • Restaurants and Food/Beverage Services
  • Travel & Tourism

This cluster may be a fit for you if any of these jobs pique your interest:

10. Human services

People with jobs in the human services cluster help people with personal and interpersonal needs, ranging from social workers to salon managers. Passion is a key ingredient for success in this field, along with either a bachelor’s degree and/or certification in your area of specialty. 

This career cluster has five distinct pathways:

  • Consumer Services
  • Counseling and Mental Health Services
  • Early Childhood Development and Services
  • Family and Community Services
  • Personal Care Services

Some of the roles you’ll find in this field are:

11. Information technology

Professionals in the information technology career cluster build, manage, service, and maintain the digital infrastructure that keeps businesses and society running. To work in this field, you’ll need a high level of technical knowledge and a hunger for continuous learning to keep your skills sharp in a constantly evolving world. 

An associate’s or bachelor’s degree is preferred for most jobs, as well as specialized certifications related to your area of expertise.

The four career pathways in the information technology cluster are:

  • Information Support and Services
  • Network Systems
  • Programming and Software Development
  • Web and Digital Communications

The diverse professions available in this field include:

12. Law, public safety, corrections & security

This cluster focuses on planning, managing and providing legal, public safety and protective services to the public. Professionals in this field work in institutions like law enforcement agencies, courtrooms and jails, as well as in public settings like parks and recreational facilities.

Many professions in this field require you to pursue a specialized educational path, like law school for legal careers or training within the police academy for law enforcement jobs. 

There are five pathways in this cluster:

  • Correction Services
  • Emergency and Fire Management Services
  • Law Enforcement Services
  • Legal Services
  • Security and Protective Services

Here’s a selection of the jobs that fall within this category:

13. Manufacturing

From the can of soda you enjoy on your lunch break to the table you sit at to drink it, all consumer and commercial goods arrive in our hands thanks to the manufacturing cluster. Professionals in this field plan, manage, and perform the processing of raw materials into final products. 

If you enjoy working with your hands or have a knack for solving problems with new ideas, a job within this career cluster could be perfect for you. 

It has six career pathways:

  • Health, Safety and Environmental Assurance
  • Logistics and Inventory Control
  • Maintenance, Installation and Repair
  • Manufacturing Production Process Development
  • Production
  • Quality Assurance

 A sample of jobs available in this cluster are:

14. Marketing

Any business that operates for profit needs a plan to get customers to purchase its goods and services. This is the focus of professionals in the marketing career cluster. Workers in this category plan, manage, execute and analyze marketing activities to achieve organizational goals. 

The type of education you need will depend on the career pathway you’re most interested in, but for many positions in this cluster a bachelor’s degree in marketing is a good starting point.

Here are the five pathways in this category:

  • Marketing Communications
  • Marketing Management
  • Marketing Research
  • Merchandising
  • Professional Sales

Some of the jobs this cluster can help you achieve are:

15. Science, technology, engineering & mathematics (STEM)

The highly technical jobs in this career cluster focus on research, development, lab testing and other specialized services. Professionals in this category have completed advanced levels of education and are often subject to governing bodies within their industry, like state licensing boards. 

Careers in this cluster fall into two pathways:

  • Engineering and Technology
  • Science and Mathematics

If you like the technical work that STEM has to offer, you might be interested in a job like:

16. Transportation, distribution & logistics

This cluster centers around helping people and things get to where they need to go effectively. Professionals in this field of specialty work on roads, railways, waterways, pipelines, and any other medium that moves things from point A to point B. 

To be successful in this field, you should be detail-oriented and thrive on a schedule, as deadlines play a crucial role in logistics work. 

The transportation, distribution, and logistics cluster has seven career pathways:

  1. Facility and Mobile Equipment Maintenance
  2. Health, Safety and Environmental Management
  3. Logistics Planning and Management Services
  4. Sales and Service
  5. Transportation Operations
  6. Transportation Systems/Infrastructure Planning, Management and Regulation
  7. Warehousing and Distribution Center Operations

Some jobs within this category are:

Hopefully this list gives you just a small glimpse of the numerous diverse career paths available. You can learn more about hundreds of positions, including sample duties and required education, in our career library

To dive deeper into the career clusters, we highly recommend checking out the official framework at CareerTech.org