Three Key Elements of Quality Work-Based Learning Programs for Young Adults

Posted November 30, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young person learns how to use a machine through an apprenticeship program

A new report funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation identifies key elements of quality work-based learning programs for youth and young adults.

Such programs — including apprenticeships and summer job initiatives — combine work experience with classroom learning so that participants have a chance to gain both affordable, industry-recognized credentials and employment skills in a variety of settings.

The Brookings Institution report, which is rooted in stakeholder interviews and a literature review, singles out three hallmarks of quality work-based learning programs for young people. These are:

  1. Exposure to positive, trusting relationships with caring adults. Connecting with teachers, youth counselors, supervisors, coaches and others offers participants a chance to grow their social skills and learn helpful self-regulation skills, such as smart time management.
  2. Opportunities to build “social capital.” Social and professional networks can serve as powerful door openers to employment and valuable work-related experiences.
  3. Access to work environments offering hands-on learning and meaningful tasks. Such settings afford young people a chance to build critical skills for specific industries and occupations; take on new roles and responsibilities; and get feedback from their supervisors and colleagues.

High-quality programs should also provide paid employment opportunities and support services — such as transportation assistance — to young workers, the report says.

“Too many young people struggle to connect to key skill-building and educational opportunities,” says Allison Gerber, a senior associate with the Casey Foundation. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create great challenges for youth and young adults — particularly for young people of color — it is especially important that public and private stakeholders expand the number of on-ramps leading to family-sustaining wages.”

More support and improved implementation

The three elements identified in the report — while vital — are unevenly supported and implemented by public systems and organizations that offer work-based learning programs for youth and young adults, according to the Brookings Institution.

For instance: While most work-based learning programs measure things like enrollment, program completion and job placement, they often fail to assess whether young people are building meaningful adult relationships or even professional and social networks.

State officials have an important role to play in improving these programs, the report maintains. Beyond providing funding, these leaders can also provide direction by setting clear, statewide goals for work-based learning.

Read more about equitable outcomes for youth through apprenticeships

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