In my work with NC3T, I’m very fortunate to be able to work with people in a wide array of roles. In the morning, I might talk with staff members from a state department of education; later that day, with a district director of CTE; and then later still, with a team of CTE educators. One of the things I’ve learned is that they all, sincerely, want to do great things for kids, but that they also face a lot of constraints and competing demands that limit what they can do.
Everyone in CTE understands that work-based learning, for example, is a great way to engage and prepare students, but we have limited budgets, and we have limited time. We all have so many expectations and reporting requirements – meet these standards, file this paperwork – that we just don’t have the time to invest in setting up as many work-based learning activities as we would like.
I think this is a shared truth in education – everyone understands this reality.
You know what many educators don’t realize? Your partners are in exactly the same boat.
If you talk to employers, the vast majority would love to get involved in work-based learning. From a professional viewpoint, they understand the critical importance of preparing the next generation of employees. From a personal perspective, it’s rewarding to not only introduce young people to the career and industry you love, but to just help them develop as a person.
Just like educators, business people face constraints that prevent them from participating in your programs. If they have equipment, every minute that equipment isn’t running – for example, when someone shuts it down so your students can see and work with it – the company is losing money. If one of their employees is working with one of your students as a mentee or intern, that employee is losing time that would otherwise be contributing to the bottom line. Employers fully understand the substantial time investment required to create a quality job shadow, externship, or internship experience.
So, it turns out that you and your employer partners aren’t so different: You both want to help young people prepare for the real world, but you face certain constraints that limit what you can do. How do you make work-based learning as easy, and as painless, as possible?
Acknowledge the costs – and try to minimize them.
Your partners will be very impressed if you acknowledge the costs of their participation in work-based learning; they’ll be thrilled if you work with them to find ways to minimize those costs. See if you can structure work-based learning around lower-cost times for them, such as setting up job shadows during acknowledged slow points in a production cycle; take advantage of their existing training schedule; or work on equipment while it’s in test mode, being serviced, or otherwise offline.
Look for the benefits.
There are lots of benefits already in place for employers, whether long-term (a qualified workforce, an opportunity to build relationships now with future employees) or immediate-term (increased job satisfaction for employees who work with students). There may be other benefits as well, ranging from community goodwill (meaning you should find ways of promoting your partnerships) to financial gains due to local or state incentives (Georgia, for example, gives employers a discount on their workman’s comp insurance when they take interns).
Look for help.
You and your employer partners aren’t the only ones in the world with an interest in making work-based learning possible; see if there are financial, manpower, or expert resources available to reduce the cost of your efforts. State and federal agencies may have funds to pay wages for interns or apprentices. Some workforce entities, like Chambers, trade associations or workforce boards, may be able to take on the paperwork requirements for your apprenticeships. Your state department of education may have guidelines and toolkits that save you substantial time in setting up quality experiences.
Work-based learning is critically important, both to your students’ development and to the future of industry. If you and your employers recognize your shared challenges, you can work together to overcome them.
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.