Show me the money!
These days, businesses are juggling a lot of concerns: supply chain, information security, and talent management. Philanthropy and community engagement aren’t likely on the top of the project list right now. Those priorities are limited to activities most likely to bring the greatest return on investment – theoretically.
Where does work-based learning fit into those priorities?
Work-based learning, the practice of leveraging the voice of business to help youth identify talents, choose a career, and develop early professional work experience (think internship, youth apprenticeship, etc.), can easily get lost as a philanthropic venture. The conversion rate of interns, co-op students, or even youth apprentices can be lower than desired without high-quality work-based learning practices. But with a few tweaks to current practices, the return on investment in work-based learning can take this community engagement activity and transform it into a talent pipeline solution.
Examine your current practices
Groups like the Partnership for Advancing Youth Apprenticeship and organizations like Jobs for the Future have spelled out indicators of quality and quality practices in work-based learning that maximize success for students, schools, workforce development, and communities. You can read a brief on these in the whitepaper “Work-based Learning Ecosystems”. These quality indicators can help you continuously improve the return your company gets from participation in work-based learning. And, in an era where we can all use fast answers, if you keep reading this blog, I’ll share three immediate actions you can take to evolve your community involvement into company investment.
Solution 1: Pave pathways to promotion
In a recent study put out by the Harvard Business School, a survey of American workers revealed that 62% would be more likely to stay at their company if the pathway to upward mobility was clear. (Building from the Bottom Up, 2020). Documented career pathways within your company won’t just help you retain your current employees, it will help you maximize your investment with youth and work-based learning programs. This initiative should also include clearly defined pre-requisite competencies for each role to make it easy for employees and students in work-based learning to understand what they must do to be eligible to apply for a promotion.
Solution 2: Balance work and shadow opportunities with training
Students enroll in work-based learning experiences to build skills. If your youth opportunities only allow students to take on entry-level and rudimentary tasks with an occasional job shadow opportunity, boredom and disappointment are almost guaranteed to flush your investment down the drain. Create your internship/apprenticeship programs to include training that allows students to take on progressively more challenging tasks. This opportunity for continual progress and growth will show students that you are committed to their success as a professional.
Solution 3: Open the doors not just the position
College interns MIGHT have enough experience to know exactly what skills they want to develop and prove in a professional work environment, but high school students will not. When you bring in high school youth through work-based learning programs, design your opportunities to help students explore careers within your company. You may find that students hired as IT interns have a better alignment with your marketing department. You could find that your machining youth apprentice is actually better suited for quality assurance. In addition to showing these youth that your company is dedicated to hiring good fit employees, not just role-specific workers, intentional design in your work-based learning opportunity will improve retention and participant engagement.
Who’s got the time?
You may find that these three solutions resonate with internal goals but conflict with internal bandwidth. Keep in mind that work-based learning intermediaries (described in the whitepaper linked above) exist to support the high-quality execution of your youth programs. GPS Education Partners is an example of an intermediary who is happy to help you develop and implement the solutions described above. So the real question isn’t “Who’s got the time”, it’s “With such simple solutions, can you afford to let your youth keep walking away?”