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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