This is no ordinary blog post. Nope, this is a shout-out to HR recruiters trying to find qualified, good-fit candidates who will stick. It is a blinking sign calling out to colleges that are trying to improve their post-program employment rates. And, it is a signal flare to K-12 school district leaders who are trying to crack the code on engaging businesses in the career and college readiness of their students.
If you fit the description of anyone in that last paragraph, I hope you’ll keep reading. I want to talk to you about a potential blindspot you may have in searching for solutions to your problems. And if you share this “ah-ha” moment with me, you can turn to the GPS Education Partners/Getting Smart white paper “Work-based Learning Ecosystems” and find some solid solutions and ideas. But for now, let’s address that blind spot.
Have you ever torn apart your house looking for the car keys that are in your pocket or the cell phone that is in your hand? My 9-year-old son thinks it hilarious when I do this. He just smirks when I insist that I am trying so hard to be ready for what’s coming down the pike, that I lose sight of what is immediately in front of me. (He doesn’t think it is as funny when I tease him for the same blindness as he searches for milk – large, white, plastic jug in the refrigerator…in the door, no less…where it is always kept.)
You may have fallen prey to a similar style of blindness if you aren’t sure how the people in the first paragraph fit together. These entities are the interconnected beings in an ecosystem necessary for thriving, sustainable communities.
Ecosystem. Did that word trigger vague memories of high school biology class for anyone else?
Ecosystem actually returned to my vocabulary a few years ago when a consultant listened to me talk about my work building partnerships between high schools, colleges, and businesses. She summarized my description by saying that what I really do is build ecosystems. And the more I thought about an ecosystem, and the interdependency each living creature in an ecosystem shares, it made a lot of sense.
To help you see this interdependency, I’d like to take a moment to talk about a supply chain. Sellable goods start as raw materials. The material is formed into a product. The product is packaged and shipped to stores. Customers buy the product.
Now, if we relate this to communities, K-12 school systems are where the raw material exists. Colleges are where fresh workforce potential is shaped and molded. Businesses are the consumers looking to grab trained and knowledgeable individuals from the community.
Did you notice the gap? If you look at our supply chain analogy, you will see that there is a packaging and distribution system. But, if you look in our communities, this doesn’t exist. We have the raw material. We have finished products. And we have paying customers. But many communities lack the system that distributes the supply to feed the demand.
So what is the solution? You didn’t read this far without hopes of answers, right?
Work-based learning is the solution. Work-based learning is a collaboration of the schools, colleges, and businesses in a community effort to inspire, prepare and connect students to the world of work. It is the packaging and distribution system that helps students successfully launch as contributing citizens.
GPS Education Partners (GPSEd) defines WBL as programs that “give students exposure to the world of work through a set of sequenced and coordinated activities. It addresses the shared goal of educators and employers in preparing students with the knowledge and skills necessary for productive careers.” GPS Education Partners, Getting Smart. (2021). Work-based Learning Ecosystems.
Work-based learning is an intentional community-driven act of constructing branching pathways that lead students between education and career opportunities. It is the establishment of road signs that encourage continued education and training to allow for promotion and career advancement. Now I didn’t choose a road construction analogy lightly. There is work involved in building and sustaining this infrastructure, but there are also intermediaries, like GPS Education Partners to help with the heavy lifting. There is an entire section on intermediaries who facilitate the development of work-based learning in that white paper I mentioned, “Work-based Learning Ecosystems”.
In fact, this white paper is very honest about the barriers that must be overcome to build high-quality work-based learning (check out “Challenges” on page 8). But work-based learning is a pressure-tested model (see the case studies that start on page 19) that is being funded through braided sources (yes, that is in the white paper too – check out “Funding Models and Policy” page 10) in order to sustain and grow healthy communities.
So what are you waiting for? The blinders are off. The answers are at your fingertips: (seriously just click this link to be able to download “Work-based Learning Ecosystems”).