Dr. George Solli // School District of Palm Beach County
Dr. Sarah Burrows // Providence College
This paper presents research on experiential learning opportunities revealed by sampling U.S. school districts. Research was performed simultaneously on two-year colleges and is presented in a separate paper.
By the time high school students are juniors, they likely are starting to formulate ideas and even plans for their careers. One of the best ways to test their aspirations is to witness workplaces first hand. Early introductions to the nature of work performed in fields students envision for their future careers can present key advantages. Even if they hold no particular ideas about a vocation, students may learn new skills, and grow and develop professionally through working alongside seasoned tradespersons and professionals. On the other side of the coin, offering young adults experiential learning opportunities while in school is beneficial to employers. Often internships result in the interns receiving permanent job offers making work-based learning programs a useful recruitment tool.
The search for examples of experiential learning turned up many options. Most secondary education institutions seek to place students with local employers; a small number support internships solely internally. In several cases local chambers of commerce and industry groups have partnered with school districts to place students.
It is recommended that high schools and colleges share information on their experiential learning programs to illuminate the many options. Furthermore, it would be beneficial for secondary schools and two-year colleges to collaborate on advertising apprenticeships and certificate programs.
This paper researches experiential learning opportunities as revealed by sampling U.S. school districts. It has a companion paper, to be published subsequently, that looks at opportunities at two-year colleges.
By the time high school students are juniors, they likely are starting to formulate ideas and even plans for their careers.i One of the best ways to test their aspirations is to witness workplaces first hand.ii Early introductions to the nature of work performed in fields students envision for their future careers can present key advantages.iii Even if they hold no particular ideas about a vocation, students may learn new skills, and grow and develop through working alongside seasoned tradespersons and professionals.iv On the other side of the coin, offering young adults experiential learning opportunities while in school is beneficial to employers.v Often internships result in the interns receiving permanent job offers making work-based learning (WBL) programs a useful recruitment tool.
The search for examples of experiential learning for high school students turned up many options. Most educational institutions look to place students with local employers; a small number support internships solely internally. In several cases local chambers of commerce and industry groups have partnered with school districts to place students with businesses.
It is recommended that high schools and colleges share information on their experiential learning programs to illuminate the many possible options. This will encourage more students to find and initiate their careers with the guidance of experiential learning.
The subject experiential learning has various names, such as work-based learning, experiential learning, work-integrated leaning, and field-based learning. Given the numerous terms that cover experiential learning, it is important not to get too distracted by the term but focus on the commonalities between the experiences.
Types of Experiential Learning
Experiential learning takes many forms.
Part-time Jobs over School Breaks
These work opportunities are chiefly sought to earn money. They usually are not stepping stones toward gaining specific work experience directed at a career.
Internships are a fixed-length work experiences providing training in chosen or potential career fields. They are not permanent jobs.
Apprentices are full-time employees whose employers pay for their workers to acquire certifications or further education after work at a college or training firm. The purpose of such training is to enhance employees’ skills and ability to perform at an advanced level.
Cooperative Education Programs
A co-op program is a long-term arrangement between a business and a college to jointly train students for a career. Students work for pay and matriculate at school in alternating periods until their degrees are attained. Often, students receive permanent job offers at the end.
Externships typically last from two days to two weeks. They frequently involve job shadowing to give students first-hand insight to career areas. This term is also used for post- graduate and law internships.
Clinical practice provides hands-on experience. These opportunities are usually tied to coursework and have predetermined durations.
Students can gain appreciable knowledge of foreign culture and enhance their language skills by living in a foreign country. Colleges routinely offer these experiences; high school students can find them apart from school.
Simulations and Gaming/Role Playing
Simulations attempt to create the environment of a business or process. Game playing can engage students in various activities and situations to illuminate the nature of the work and provide practice.
Volunteering to serve and work in an occupation presents the opportunity to witness the workings of a business and to get hands-on experience. Many times, volunteering opens doors that are closed otherwise.
Leaving the classroom for a field experience presents the real world to students. It reveals a range of variables involved with the work that is not necessarily visible in curricula.
Students may engage with their community by contributing their time to needed services. The work performed is mutually beneficial accomplishing needed work and providing students valuable insights (Experience Learning: the 12 Types of Experience Learning).
Practicums and Student Teaching
These occur in disciplines that require a certain number of hours of hands-on learning to be certified or to pass the academic program that mandates them. Social work, education, and nursing, are examples of such disciplines.
Research is conducted on a college campus or in a lab with a faculty member providing supervision and observation for a research project that usually aligns with the mentor’s research area of interest.
Need for Experiential Learning
The importance of motivating secondary school graduates to continue their education cannot be understated. The Florida College Access network (FCAN) states that “67% of the jobs created in Florida by 2025 will require education and training beyond high school (FCAN, 2019).
The challenge of making effective relationships that facilitate experiential learning and “meet business, philanthropic, youth and community goals” is championed in many quarters, one example being an annual workshop convened by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (2020 National Mentoring Summit Workshop Proposals).
Many sources can be found describing the value of internships. Students’ acquisition of soft skills in preparation for entering the workforce is perennially at the top of employers’ stated needs. Internships and other workplace experiences are excellent vehicles for building these skills. Specifically, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) lists “eight key soft skill areas that should be developed by graduation.” They are: “Critical Thinking/problem Solving, Oral/Written Communications, Teamwork/Collaboration, Digital Technology (a hard skill), Leadership, Professionalism/Work Ethic, Career Management, and Global Intercultural Fluency” (Career Readiness for the College Student, 2019). A Career and Technical Education (CTE) researcher having observed high school and community college students at their internships noticed they came away transformed with a better sense of their own capabilities (A Q&A with the Career & Technical Education Research Network, 2019).
Routes to Acquiring Experiential Learning Opportunities
High school students, generally, find it challenging to find work-based learning opportunities. They may be fortunate to attend a school system that has created WBL programs; otherwise, they must search the community or look for advertised national programs to locate positions.
In most colleges, students secure internships through a variety of methods. Some students utilize their Career Office for guidance on the search and the requirement to earn academic credit; some students utilize their faculty member’s connections to secure an internship; and some students utilize their own network with their family or community to secure such opportunities. Most students in co-op programs have structured systems for securing internships and other forms of experiential learning.
Both investigators have extensive experience running student intern programs.
George Solli for 16 years has been the director of internships for two divisions of the Palm Beach County School District: Facilities Management and Information Technology (IT). These programs annually hire 20-30 high school students each for paid summer internships; some interns continue working during the school year. Owing to the success of his programs, the district mandated that virtually every department create internships for students. In 2019, 100 students were hired. Dr. Solli’s internship programs have won several awards, and he mentors new departments acquiring student interns.
Sarah Burrows currently works in the Center for Career Education and Professional Development at Providence College, where she provides career coaching to students as they search for internships. She also manages a professional skills development and badging initiative. At Lasell University, as a full-time faculty member, Dr. Burrows oversaw a college-wide internship program and developed protocols, processes, and assessments for students completing internships for academic credit, which was a graduation requirement. At Simmons University, she was on the faculty in the Communications Department and oversaw an academic internship program for Communications majors. At Simmons, she also managed Studio 5, a project-based learning lab, which paired teams of students with non-profit organizations to create a marketing communications solution to solve an organizational need–yet another example of experiential learning.
Motivation for collecting information on internships on a national scale stems in large part from the desire to make improvements locally based on the findings. Approaches (methods) other schools use, the types of programs they offer, and their assessment of learning practices were all of interest. The Cooperative Education & Internship Association (CEIA) offered its polling services for this study. Through CEIA’s resources, surveys were sent nationally to two-year colleges and to high schools in Florida, Washington, and Ohio. Results from the high school survey were constrained by not having a national database of Career & Technical Education (CTE) focal points. It is hoped in the future that the survey will reach a fuller U.S. audience.
The 21-question high school and two-year college surveys returned enlightening information, which was the basis for findings in this report and for a planned presentation at the 2020 CEIA Annual Conference.
Interviews with directors of internship programs in some of the high school programs cited added further information on kinds of work-based learning (WBL) being applied and its effects.
Internet searches for cogent WBL programs revealed that many corporations supported schools in introducing students to their futures in the workplace. Many businesses recognize the benefit of energizing students to prepare for careers. Such companies were clearly motivated to provide WBL. Often internships and co-op programs functioned as a pipeline for full-time talent.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2018 Study
Westat conducted for NCES a national survey of career and technical education (CTE) programs available to high school students in the 2016-17 school year.vi The study collected data from nearly 400 schools nationwide (Gray & Lewis, 2018). It was learned that:
- Ninety-eight percent of public schools offered CTE programs. Seventy-seven percent of schools conducted CTE in their own secondary school programs, 54% of schools participated in a consortium of schools, 46% used 2-year community or technical colleges and 11% sent students to 4-year colleges to obtain training.
- Districts reported their CTE programs included a variety of activities:
- On-the-job training, internships, practicums, clinical experiences, or cooperative education (77% of districts)
- Student-run enterprises or services (55% of districts)
- Apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeship programs (31% of districts)
- Other work-based learning (16% of districts)
National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) Study 2013
A scholarly study supported by the NRCCTE noted that, “Compared to 12 other countries, students in the United States spend the least amount of time in a work setting…The result of the relative lack of investment in high-quality workplace learning for students is that U.S. youth have very few of the applied skills or credentials that employers are seeking” (Corinne Alffeld et al, 2013).
The NRCCTE examined three U.S. high school WBL models: internships/co-operative education, apprenticeships and school-based enterprises. The study recommended adding planning, marketing, legal, logistical and pedagogical considerations to bolster WBL programs.vii
NAF (formerly known as National Academy Foundation)
NAF is an organization that consists of academies teaching curriculums shaped on industry input. NAF’s guidance flexibly fits into high school curricula so that each district’s specific needs receive a personalized plan. The academies train students on industry-specific workplace skills. NAF fosters collaboration among different stakeholders to create a talent pipeline. Local advisory boards send valuable input from the workplace to schools on the development of in-demand skills. The academies help NAF emphasize work-based learning and move out of the classroom to internships and externships (job shadowing).
Suggestions for Finding Internships
Susan Kastner Tree, Director of College Counseling at the Westtown School in Westchester, Pennsylvania, advises students to use personal contacts and local resources to find internships (Kastner, 2019).
- Ask school counselors and teachers for leads.
- Check with coaches and club advisors.
- Inquire with family and friends.
- If there is a specific company or organization that interests you, don’t be afraid to ask someone who works there.
- Look for internship guidebooks at the library.
There are also private sector means of locating internships. Following are examples that were retrieved with an Internet search.
- Chegg Internships has a website that guides students to opportunities (Find 2019 High School internships, 2019).
- Recently AT&T, which has its own student internship and mentoring programs,ix teamed up with the non-profit Year Up to create more. Year Up “enables motivated young adults, ages 18-24, to move from minimum wage to meaningful careers in just one year by providing skills, experience and support they need to reach their full potential.” Year Up in 2019 sought to serve more than 4,700 customers (AT&T Partners with Year Up to Create Internships for Young People, 2019).
- In 2019, AT&T placed 15 Bronx high School students in summer internships with retail stores in New York City. The interns shadowed AT&T sales and customer service experts for four weeks learning about wireless technology and business management. An AT&T vice president noted, “Just giving them an AT&T shirt to put on each day and heading off to work had such an impact on them—they understand the value of work and a job” (Begin Workforce Development Early to Better Prepare Students fo Future Careers, 2020).
- Year Up is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing disconnected youth, 18-24 years old who are neither in school or working, to prepare for meaningful careers. Working with a local college, Year Up administrators provide training and make internships for students in the local area. From its beginning in 2000, Year Up has served more than 29,000 students, 90% of whom graduated and were placed into college or jobs (About Year Up).
- Bank of America offers paid summer internships to high school juniors and seniors in its Student Leaders Program. Interns work for local non-profits. The program runs for eight weeks and includes a week’s “Summit in Washington, DC” (Paid summer internship opportunity, n.d.).
- JFF Labs proposes that students attempt to leverage various technologies to access work-based learning. Additionally, the organization has noted WBL opportunities that are non-tech-based, two of which are described in this paper: Cristo Rey and CAPS high schools (Stevens, n.d.).
Apprenticeships provide trainees jobs with incomes while they are learning the skills needed to perform work. Traditionally, companies using the building trades have been the predominant employers utilizing apprenticeships. Other industries that can ably use apprenticeships for meeting their employment demands are healthcare, IT and those involved in advanced engineering fields. “About 53 percent of job openings are ‘middle skill,’ requiring less than a four-year degree but more than a high school education…Only 43 percent of the current work force fits that description” (Wogan, 2018). The federal government has traditionally monitored standards for apprentice licenses. Length of training—at least a year—has been a criterion, but certification may morph to becoming competency-based. In many cases, states are taking the lead to develop apprenticeships to grow their workforces.
U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Apprenticeship Study 2017
The federal government believes that apprenticeships can make a major contribution in preparing a skilled workforce. This is important because projections forecast a growing gap in supplying qualified employees for middle-skill jobs, i.e., those requiring training beyond high school but less than a four-year college degree. Fields critical to the nation’s economic competitiveness and in danger of experiencing qualified employee shortfalls include: “computer technology, nursing, and advanced manufacturing.” (Zimmerman, 2017)
The DOE report, prepared by Advance CTE, focused on three types of apprentice programs:
- Apprenticeship: a paid work experience with formal on-the-job training
- Youth Apprenticeships: a program specifically designed for students 16-18 years old
- Pre-apprenticeships: a program or strategy designed to prepare individuals for entry to an apprenticeship
The researchers found that each of the study’s sites used unique approaches to offering apprenticeships to CTE students. Effectiveness of the high schools’ apprenticeship programs was difficult to assess since many were new. But several recommendations were proposed to achieve desired outcomes to include:
- Programs should be aligned with workforce demands.
- Employers need to drive the process.
- Both short-and long-term metrics need to be applied to program evaluations.
- Market postsecondary opportunities to students and parents.
- Open apprenticeships in non-traditional fields to attract new students.
- Offer financial incentives to employers.
- Mitigate barriers to access by offering transportation.
JFF Apprenticeship Services
JFF, formerly named Jobs for the Future, hosts the Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning. The center conducts studies on apprenticeships through government grants but has also made “a community where employers, state and local practitioners, the growing network of intermediaries, and others can easily access current resources, share proven and promising practices, and test new approaches.” It offers services for K-12 and postsecondary education that bring together aid from businesses, government, labor unions and more. JFF has created a Work-Based Learning Toolkit and formed the Pathways to Prosperity Network (What the Center Does, n.d.). It also publishes reports and broadcasts webinars on apprenticeship projects (All resources, n.d.).
Florida Pathways Grant Program
The Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program is a matching grant incentive for high schools and colleges to sponsor apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeship programs to support regional workforce demand.
Kentucky TRACK Program
The Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) program is a model for aligning classroom instruction with hands-on experience. The Kentucky Labor Cabinet and Department of Education’s Office of CTE combine pre-apprenticeships with coursework and industry certification. TRACK culminates in an industry-recognized credential, paid work experience and, often, advanced standing in a full registered apprenticeship (Incorporating Youth Apprenticeships in Career Technical Education Pathways: The Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeships Blog Series, n.d.).
Maryland AMP Program
The Maryland Departments of Education and Labor and Licensing Regulation collaborate to offer students paid work-based learning, academic courses and industry mentoring through the Apprenticeship Maryland Program (AMP). While earning and learning with local businesses, students gain an understanding of the connection between their educational experience and the state’s workforce demands (Incorporating Youth Apprenticeships in Career Technical Education Pathways: The Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeships Blog Series, n.d.).
Co-op Education in Florida Colleges and Universities
Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales has a stated purpose “to provide an experiential learning approach throughout the curriculum, by integrating practicums, internships, externships, co-op opportunities, international experiences, directed work projects and community service activities” (Johnson & Wales University, 2019). Of particular note towards furthering technology co-op opportunities in South Florida, the university offers a Computer Science B.S at its North Miami campus.
Miami Dade College
Miami Dade offers 12 co-op programs across 8 of its schools. It has a program in Engineering Technology and Design.
Florida Atlantic University
Starting in the Fall 2021, Florida Atlantic University will offer four-year bachelor’s degree co-op programs in Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering.
Conclusions And Recommendations
There is broad concurrence from students, educators and employers that WBL is a great source of personal and professional development beginning with high school years. In fact, real-work opportunities in high school and college often result in permanent jobs for students.
The search for WBL examples for students turned up many options. Most educational institutions looked to place students with local employers while a small number supported internships solely internally. The latter situation places a severe limitation on the number of students who can be served. These institutions are advised to take cues from the many school systems described in this paper that develop local student employment externally. In several cases local chambers of commerce and industry groups have partnered with school districts to place students with businesses.
There are two glaring reasons for students to advance their education beyond high school. One, a large majority of jobs in the future will require greater skills; and, two, there is a marked income differential for those who fail to earn post-secondary credentials and degrees. Experiential learning has been shown to be influential in motivating students to focus on developing their talents. It stands to raise their life outcomes.
It is recommended that high schools and colleges share information on their experiential learning programs to reveal the many possible options that are in practice. Further, it would be beneficial for secondary schools and two-year colleges to collaborate on making and advertising apprenticeships and certificate programs. This will encourage more students to find and initiate their careers with the help of work-based learning. Retaining local talent is frequently a goal of labor and business development agencies. Work-based learning makes a WIN across the board for young adults, employers and communities.