Making Work-Based Learning Happen

Posted March 9, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young person in the construction industry

A new report fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion explores how work­force devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tions build qual­i­ty work-based learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for youth and young adults.

Unpack­ing the Work of Work-Based Learn­ing, pro­duced by the Aspen Insti­tute, draws on the expe­ri­ences of four orga­ni­za­tions in the Casey Foundation’s Gen­er­a­tion Work™ ini­tia­tive — an effort that con­sists of local part­ner­ships that are explor­ing new ways of help­ing young peo­ple, espe­cial­ly those of col­or, gain the knowl­edge and train­ing need­ed to secure jobs that pay fam­i­ly-sus­tain­ing wages.

The pub­li­ca­tion describes how these four orga­ni­za­tions — based in Indi­anapo­lis, Philadel­phia and Seat­tle — have built work-based learn­ing pro­grams with employ­ers and pre­pared young peo­ple for learn­ing on the job.

What is work-based learning?

Work-based learn­ing — a broad term that includes var­i­ous pro­grams, such as appren­tice­ships, intern­ships and sum­mer-job ini­tia­tives — com­bines work expe­ri­ence with class­room learn­ing so that par­tic­i­pants can gain afford­able, indus­try-rec­og­nized cre­den­tials and employ­ment skills.

Research shows that work expe­ri­ence, includ­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in work-based learn­ing pro­grams, increas­es the like­li­hood that young peo­ple from low-income back­grounds will land jobs that can sup­port indi­vid­u­als or fam­i­lies lat­er in their lives. Such pro­grams can also con­nect youth and young adults of col­or to careers in indus­tries that they have his­tor­i­cal­ly faced bar­ri­ers to entering.

Prepar­ing young peo­ple for work-based learning

The report lists sev­er­al impor­tant steps that part­ners have tak­en to pre­pare young peo­ple for work-based learn­ing. These include:

  • expos­ing young peo­ple to employ­ers ear­ly in their pro­gram par­tic­i­pa­tion to gen­er­ate inter­est in var­i­ous career paths — includ­ing by hir­ing employ­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives as class­room instruc­tors and arrang­ing tours of work facilities;
  • ensur­ing that pro­gram staff, coach­es, instruc­tors and man­agers nur­ture healthy rela­tion­ships with youth and young adult par­tic­i­pants and can men­tor them as they join job sites;
  • help­ing young peo­ple meet their basic needs, such as access­ing trans­porta­tion, hous­ing assis­tance and men­tal health sup­ports; and
  • hav­ing frank con­ver­sa­tions with youth and young adults of col­or about bar­ri­ers and poten­tial dis­crim­i­na­tion they may face in the work­place — and how they can address adverse sit­u­a­tions in a pro­duc­tive way.

Work­ing with employ­ers to shape programs

The report also notes the many steps that Gen­er­a­tion Work part­ners take to iden­ti­fy suit­able employ­er part­ners and build pro­grams with them. They include:

  • Seek­ing out employ­ers and occu­pa­tions where work-based learn­ing is fea­si­ble. This includes iden­ti­fy­ing occu­pa­tions, such as those in the health-care field, where learn­ing on the job and in the class­room is already a com­mon req­ui­site for employees.
  • Deter­min­ing whether employ­ers can sup­port young peo­ple. This can include vet­ting employ­ers through site vis­its in which work­force prac­ti­tion­ers gauge how well man­age­ment sup­ports youth and young adult par­tic­i­pants — includ­ing assess­ing the qual­i­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties that are offered and how the orga­ni­za­tion treats young work­ers of color.
  • Eas­ing employ­er con­cerns and bur­dens when part­ner­ing on work-based learn­ing. This includes tak­ing on some super­vi­so­ry and admin­is­tra­tive duties. Gen­er­a­tion Work part­ners do this in myr­i­ad ways, includ­ing han­dling key paper­work; vis­it­ing work sites to coach young peo­ple on the job; and assist­ing employ­ers in com­pen­sat­ing young peo­ple for their work.
  • Help­ing employ­ers struc­ture work-based learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. This includes help­ing employ­ers build sys­tems for assess­ing youth and young adults’ per­for­mance on the job and sup­port­ing employ­ers in build­ing healthy rela­tion­ships with super­vi­sors and col­leagues. Some part­ners pro­vide incen­tives for employ­ees at job sites to act as men­tors to youth participants.

We hope this report acts as a resource for prac­ti­tion­ers and their part­ners who seek to build effec­tive work-based learn­ing pro­grams,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, a senior asso­ciate with the Casey Foun­da­tion. Cre­at­ing new path­ways to employ­ment is espe­cial­ly impor­tant today, as many young people’s career plans were dis­rupt­ed by an econ­o­my that was upend­ed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Learn about the key ele­ments of qual­i­ty work-based learn­ing programs

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