Regardless of what the groundhog predicted in your neighborhood, one fact is certain: spring is coming. With spring I feel inspired to bring up an age-old tradition of spring cleaning. Now, I am not going to spend the next few paragraphs talking about life hacks and homemade cleaners. This post is a refresh for school districts that are already doing work-based learning. Whether you are hosting career days, offering youth apprenticeship, or graduating students in state-endorsed CTE pathways, let’s do a check-in to dust off your work-based learning programs.
I will pause for a moment and say that there are many organizations that have established metrics to define “high quality” in work-based learning. You can review a handful of the most common sources in the whitepaper “Work-based Learning Ecosystems” written as a collaborative effort between Getting Smart, experts in the field of learning design, and GPS Education Partners, experts in work-based learning design. This post won’t spend time unpacking these benchmarks. That exercise is best done with a diverse team on a mission of continuous improvement. Instead, I am offering a few “spring-cleaning” tips for maximizing student outcomes as a result of work-based learning. Think of it as washing your windows at the end of a long winter to make sure the sunshine and view are uninhibited.
Cleaning Focus 1: The Voice of Business
It is common practice to build an advisory group of business and post-secondary leaders when a district launches work-based learning. This group provides guidance on the skills and opportunities that can help students better understand careers and the world of work. And while this is essential, the real power in the voice of business is through direct contact with students. Consider whether this is an area of your program design that might need some polishing:
- Are your students hearing from business partners which subjects to study, what skills to highlight in their resumes, what degrees and certifications matter?
- Are your students visiting businesses to understand career paths within companies, to experience pace and work environment, and to make professional connections?
- Are your students collaborating with or receiving feedback from professionals on classroom projects that allow growth in both interpersonal skills and technical skills
Cleaning Focus 2: STUDENT-Driven Career and College Success Plans
Consider for a moment asking a teenager to drive to a REALLY IMPORTANT destination without a map application on his/her phone or a GPS. To prepare the student, you only give him/her the keys to the car and some lessons on roads that might be taken to get to the destination. Then you send the student on his/her way. How likely is this student to be efficient in his/her travel?
Adding support from college and career professionals outside of your high school can allow you to provide road signs and guard rails. Your program design might benefit from a refresh that adds these professional mentors to help students process experiences and determine the next steps along the way.
- Consider building a business partner mentorship program to help students voice and get feedback on their ideas for how personal interests and aptitudes align to career fields?
- Consider revamping your immersive experiences (youth apprenticeship, internship, etc.) to include both career exploration within the partner business and partner-facilitated post-high school planning discussions?
- Consider asking workforce career counselors, HR professionals at local companies, and even hiring managers to participate in career guidance groups dedicated to helping students identify college programs and training opportunities that are valued by employers?
Cleaning Focus 3: Canned and Calendared Sequence of Learning Activities
Curriculum scopes and sequences are an age-honored practice that allows for the backward design of student learning and development. When you dust off your college and career curriculum, ask yourself what intervention is available to students who engage with the lessons only to discover what they DON’T want to do. What next steps do you have available to redirect these students? How might you leverage work-based learning not only as a capstone experience but also as a remediation tool for students who didn’t find their next step in career and college planning?
- Could you offer work-based learning experiences like skills camps, business-partner supported clubs and projects, and even volunteer opportunities to help students gain the experience necessary to accurately answer questions on career interest surveys?
- Could you collaborate with companies to build company awareness days designed to expose students to roles that aren’t easily identified in career cluster assignments? Data analysts, occupational health and safety, and purchasing are examples of embedded career fields found across multiple industries. These high-demand roles are often hard to find in career clusters.
- Could you promote summer work and volunteer opportunities to help students gain experience and develop soft skills in order to provide fuel for the lessons on strong resumes and professional references? (Yes, camps and college experiences can help with experience, but work and volunteer positions aren’t intentionally designed to make the tasks fun. Students also need to gain experience with skills in the raw environment that is sometimes dirty, unrealistically paced, etc.)
You may have noticed that these work-based learning “cleaning tips” involve a higher level of collaboration with your business partners than just sharing with students. If that feels daunting, remember that intermediaries are great resources to support this work.