New Resource Strives to Connect Every Learner to Work-Based Learning 

Work-based learning provides learners an opportunity to reinforce and deepen classroom learning, explore future career fields, and demonstrate their skills in an authentic, real-world setting. Through experiences such as internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing and student-led enterprises, work-based learning connects learners’ classroom experiences to their future careers. Given its vital role in a learner’s career development, leaders in education, workforce and public policy must ensure work-based learning opportunities are equitable. This means that every learner regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, ability or geography can access high-quality work-based learning opportunities and are provided the necessary supports to be successful. 

Work-based learning is a critical strategy to level the playing field for historically marginalized learners who tend to lack social capital, or a network of relationships that can be mobilized to improve an individual’s power, status and authority.  Advance CTE’s latest publication, Connecting Every Learner: A Framework for States to Increase Access to and Success in Work-Based Learning, suggests five strategies states can take to build, implement and scale high-quality work-based learning experiences — with a specific focus on expanding equitable access and supporting success for historically marginalized learners such as learners with disabilities, economically disadvantaged learners, Black, Latinx, Native American and rural learners, and learners pursuing nontraditional career paths. Each section of the report describes what the strategy looks like in practice, offers a rationale for each strategy, and provides state and local examples of best practices across the country. Those strategies include:

Establish a statewide vision for equity in work-based learning by establishing a policy environment that incentivizes high-quality work-based learning experiences, build the infrastructure for stakeholders to realize the vision and set intentional goals. For example, Tennessee has set a goal to double the number of learners participating in work-based learning experiences by 2025, with an emphasis on economically disadvantaged learners. Tennessee is leveraging youth apprenticeships, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding, and targeted wraparound supports to realize this goal.

Enable intermediary organizations to equitably expand work-based learning through funding, building formal partnerships or even tasking state-level organizations to serve as intermediaries. For example, the Connecting Activities network in Massachusetts is made up of state workforce boards that connect employers and schools to support work-based learning and career development education opportunities for learners. 

Use data to advance equity and program quality by developing data systems that allow for reliable, valid and complete collection of work-based learning data; require work-based learning providers to collect demographic data on learners and leverage data to track learner participation and success in high-quality work-based learning opportunities; and ensure data is actionable. For example, Washington State requires Registered Apprenticeship sponsors to collect demographic data on apprentices as part of their “equal employment opportunity plan.” 

Engage and support employers to offer high-quality and inclusive work-based learning experiences by supporting and incentivizing employers to provide equitable and inclusive work-based learning opportunities; building the infrastructure for engaging employers at scale and making the case for them to participate in work-based learning; and supporting employers and the education sector in understanding legal liability associated with youth work-based learning experiences. For example, the Denver Public Schools’ Career and College Success – Career Development Programs partner with the business community to provide high school learners with expanded access to relevant learning opportunities in the classroom and in workplace settings. 

Scale successful programs using an equity lens by braiding funding from multiple federal and state sources; enacting policies to create an incentive structure that supports high-quality work-based learning; meaningfully engaging stakeholders across systems and sectors; and building processes for monitoring progress and making changes as needed. For example, West Virginia’s Simulated Workplace program transforms learners’ classrooms and programs into business to create an authentic environment where they can develop and practice both technical and employability skills. 

Work-based learning is an essential component of any high-quality Career Technical Education (CTE) program. As state leaders begin implementing their Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) plans, they have a responsibility to ensure any work-based learning policies and practices are rooted in equity. Specifically, the policies and practices must be rooted in identifying and dismantling barriers to work-based learning  participation by and outcomes of historically marginalized groups. This report, and the strategies included, is one tool designed to support state leaders in this endeavor. 

Visit Advance CTE’s Learning that Works Resource Center for more resources on work-based learning and access and equity to CTE. 

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate

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