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How to Develop Work Based Learning Experiences

With a projected million middle skills jobs opening up in Indiana by 2024, skills-based/work-based learning is changing the way educators and employers are training, recruiting, and retaining talent to fill future workforce needs.

Work-based learning (WBL) offers a unique opportunity for individuals from diverse backgrounds to develop first-hand knowledge and skills beyond the classroom environment through industry exposure and on the job training. It provides employers with a platform to align their training needs with the actual skills necessary to be successful on the job.

Here are a few guidelines to use when building successful work based learning experiences:

Find a partner
Perhaps the most critical piece in developing WBL is having an employer partner that is interested in participating and willing to take a non-traditional approach to recruiting talent. Whatever the industry, it is often times best to start with smaller businesses. There tend to be fewer roadblocks and it is less of a challenge to get the right people capable of making decisions in the room.  With the right level of support, everyone has a sense of ownership.

Identify the Need
Every employer shares they need employees that will show up on time, work hard, and work well with others. Time-and-time again, it boils down to possessing soft skills. These are essential qualities for all candidates to possess. However, WBL is about identifying and targeting specific skill sets and needs within an industry. When working with a new employer, identify what their biggest hiring need is and what technical skills are not met by their current talent pool. Technical training through WBL by one employer has the ability to impact an entire industry by producing properly trained and skilled candidates.  

Create Structure
Communication is essential when structuring a WBL experience.
For it to be worthwhile, it has to check a few boxes. First, understand the employer’s capacity to bring on students and how many students at a time. A big part of the investment for the employer is time so be aware of any limitations they may have to dedicate to training. Have a duration in mind with a set amount of hours that offer the participant a meaningful experience while also providing the employer with a potential hire.

Appropriately vetting and recruiting students based on what the employer is seeking is critical. While gaining industry exposure is important it is equally important to be certain the potential interns have basic qualifications related to the opportunity and a genuine interest in the career field. With structure and the right interns, the experience can be meaningful for both the student and the employer.

Define Outcomes
Define outcomes and metrics to track.  Identify a few key metrics of what makes it a successful WBL for the student and the employer. There are several ways to track efforts including weekly progress reports, learned skills, successful completion, and whether or not the internship results in a hire for the employer. There is also Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD)’s Employability Skills Benchmarks that can be used to create a rubric to track what the students learn during their experience.

Like any successful partnership, it should be a win-win.
This is especially the case of WBL. Employers have the opportunity to diversify their talent pool, align training with actual needs and skills, engage the community, and develop a pipeline of talent for not just their business, but for the industry as a whole. For the participant it serves to build their resume, develop critical skills, and potentially earn while they learn. With the right partner, program structure, and candidate, work based learning can impact our current and future workforce needs.

Needless to say, there is a lot more to establishing, implementing, and sustaining an opportunity. Hopefully, this serves as a great starting point when identifying and building work based learning experiences for an employer partner and program participants.

David Dalton is the Goodwill Talentsource, Work Based Learning Manager at Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana and a member of the Indiana Assets & Opportunity Network Steering Committee.

Kathleen Taylor