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My local news starts broadcasting well before I have had my first cup of coffee.  That milestone in my day is generally the line in the sand between me and the real world.  This morning, however, my husband was listening to the news and a report snagged my attention as I was lacing up my workout shoes. “The US Labor Department says child labor is up more than 40% since last October.”

I am a work-based learning professional, so youth in the workforce is my wheelhouse.  I stayed to listen, despite knowing it wasn’t going to be something I was prepared to deal with pre-coffee.

Sure enough, the reporter ended her segment by describing a high-level overview of labor laws for minors. “No minor may work in environments with hazardous occupations,” came in as the closing statement.  With the drama of Bruce Banner becoming his alter-ego the Hulk, my red hair fired bright at that misleading closer.

For the last 11 years, I have worked with GPS Ed which specializes in work-based learning for high school students.  GPS Ed has its roots in manufacturing – an industry flush with hazardous occupations.  I know for a fact that minors in a vocational training program such as an internship or youth apprenticeship CAN work in industries with hazardous occupations as long as specific requirements are met.  These broad-stroke statements by news organizations make my job unnecessarily hard.

In the realm of work-based learning, the intersection of minors, vocational training, and hazardous occupations can be a complex landscape. It’s essential to set the record straight and understand the nuances of child labor laws, especially in the context of work-based learning.

Firstly, let’s address the common misconception – the notion that minors can’t engage in hazardous work environments. While child labor laws certainly impose restrictions, there are crucial exceptions for minors enrolled in vocational training programs. These programs offer structured supervision and well-defined guidelines that empower students to participate in workplaces that may involve potentially risky tasks.

Businesses across various industries, including manufacturing, food preparation, and construction, are no strangers to the intricacies of hiring young workers. Child labor laws prevent certain activities, such as operating machinery, handling power tools, or performing hazardous tasks. However, the category of “student learners” opens up new possibilities for these students. Student learners are minors who are part of vocational training programs, and they can navigate tasks that might seem off-limits to their peers.

It’s important to note that while federal labor standards provide these opportunities, states can implement stricter rules. Therefore, the eligibility criteria for student learner status may vary, but the potential exists for minors to engage in activities that would typically be deemed hazardous.

Work-based learning, including internships and youth apprenticeships, benefits not only students but also local businesses. These experiences foster awareness, build valuable relationships, and create a pipeline of young talent for companies. It’s crucial to recognize that news reports about child labor law enforcement should not deter companies from engaging with high school students. Instead, with the right program design and compliance with local regulations, minors can contribute positively to the workforce.

If you’re a business or an individual considering work-based learning initiatives involving high school students and have concerns about employing minors, our GPS Education Partners’ Intermediary Services Team is here to assist. We can help you design a program that aligns with your state’s regulations and provides valuable opportunities for youth.

The message is clear – you can employ minors within the framework of structured work-based learning. Learn more about creating these opportunities by checking out our Intermediary Services page or reaching out to us directly at info@gpsed.org.

Let’s build a brighter future for both students and businesses.

Written By

Amanda Daniels an employee of GPS Education Partners

Amanda Daniels
Curriculum and Instructional Design Director
GPS Education Partners

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