WBL in a Time of Pandemics

There’s an old (reportedly) Chinese saying: “May you live in interesting times.” At first glance it sounds like a blessing, but it’s actually meant as a curse. Boring times are periods of peace and prosperity; interesting times, on the other hand, are filled with chaos and tumult, as uncertainty claims the day.

These are certainly interesting times. The coronavirus is upending economies and cultures around the world. Here in the US, the closure of schools for weeks or even months at a time is unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes (it was a key strategy to suppress contagion during the 1918 Spanish Flu). Everyone in education is scrambling right now to get through each day as the ground changes beneath our feet.

However, as crazy as things are right now, we should also remember that this is temporary. It may take weeks, months, or even a year or more, but we will ultimately get a handle on things. We’ll be able to restock the kinds of preventative tools (masks, etc.) that will help us navigate our environment; vaccines will ultimately appear; we’ll start to build up herd immunities. The chaos right now is intense but, just as it was during the Spanish Flu, temporary. These types of events can upend things, but they don’t last forever.

In the meantime, we have students we need to prepare for their futures, when things have returned to normal (even if it’s a new normal). In normal times, work-based learning would be used to introduce and prepare them for the world of work, but under the circumstances no one wants to send students out to populated workplaces. So if we can’t send students out for face-to-face WBL experiences, what can we do?

A few things you might consider:

Career exploration: If students are self-isolating at home, make sure they have access to whatever resources your school makes available to continue exploring careers and industries. There are several good tools that offer self-assessments, career and industry information, and college exploration. This would be a great time for students to dive in.

Virtual connections: If you have active partners, ask if they would be willing to participate in virtual interviews or mentoring opportunities with students. Extended question and answer periods, through electronic meeting spaces like Zoom or GoToMeeting, would serve as a nice substitute to guest speakers and site visits.

Service learning: Many communities are experiencing great needs at the moment. Elderly neighbors could use help having food delivered. Charities need support. If it’s safe, ask your students to participate in the kinds of activities that help their communities. They’ll be doing good while building up the kinds of workplace and employability skills that employers want to see.

In the midst of all this, please don’t forget about your advisory boards. You can still meet virtually, and this might be a good time to ask for their input on keeping your program in line with changing industry needs as well as asking for their support in keeping students connected to opportunities (even if they’re virtual opportunities).

These times are interesting for sure, but we will get through them; and the tips above will help your students to be prepared for when they do.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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