During the past few years, high schools and colleges increasingly have sought work-based learning opportunities for students. They have solicited internship positions, expanded cooperative education programs, created youth apprenticeships, and are now building school-to-work transition systems, all of which include work-based learning elements.
In midsized and large organizations, HR or training staff usually have responsibility for coordinating with schools and overseeing students' work-site experiences. Sometimes, consultants help prepare employees to instruct, mentor, supervise, and evaluate the students.
Does work-based learning work? What are the potential benefits and disadvantages for the organizations providing the experiences and for the students? What should organizations look for when approached about participating? And what roles can trainers play in planning and operating such programs?
We recently completed a broad-ranging study of work-based learning and found that its quality varies widely. Some high-school cooperative education programs are little more than convenient escape hatches for unmotivated students, but other programs provide rigorous preparation and carefully coordinated work-based learning experiences.
Research indicates that work-based learning excites and motivates most students. It usually has positive, albeit small, effects on students' academic performance, graduation rates, and enrollment in post-secondary education. And it has led to full-time job positions for some students.
Employers participate primarily to scout, recruit, and train future employees, and to contribute to upgrading education in their communities. Most participating employers are pleased with the students and the programs; other employers have been reluctant to participate because they anticipate inadequate support from the schools, high costs of training and supervising the students, problems with their attitudes and skills, and possible downturns in the economy.
The school-to-work transition systems that are now being developed differ from most previous work-based learning programs in several ways that may make them more effective.
The new systems will
* aim to upgrade academic and occupational instruction
* provide career exploration and orientation starting in the seventh grade
* link high school to post-secondary education or training
* coordinate work-based learning with school-based learning
* judge students' progress against industry-recognized skill standards.
Benefits and costs
Training staff and consultants can help employers interested in offering work-based learning weigh the likely benefits and costs of participation, evaluate potential school partners, and plan and operate the programs.
The extent of the costs and benefits depends on the quality of preparation the schools give students, the support the schools and other organizations give employers, the employers' circumstances, and the type of work-based learning experiences. Management, union representatives, and employees may have different perspectives on the likely benefits and costs, so it's advisable to consult each party before making a final assessment.
The potential benefits for employers include
* expanding a well-prepared labor pool
* recruiting and training future employees
* meeting current labor shortages
* improving training for incumbent employees
* improving local education
* fostering a positive public image
* cultivating business opportunities with schools
* receiving wage subsidies or tax credits.
The potential costs to employers include
* planning work-based learning
* orienting and training staff
* training, supervising, mentoring, and evaluating students
* coordinating …