How can I optimize work-based learning after COVID-19?

Creighton Taylor (CEO of Guided Compass), Emily Alonso (CEO of Impact Allies), and Dr. Larry Taylor (the President of National Association of Corporate Directors – Pacific Southwest) collaborated to create a resource for educators. Together they outline key effective strategies identified in high-quality WBL programs:

  • Build employer relationships strategically.
  • Match career-seekers to opportunities systematically.
  • Implement ancillary career-seeker support systems.
  • Outsource 10–50% of coursework from employers.
  • Improve operations continually.

Build employer relationships strategically

Optimized programs should:

  • Target employers: Consider using lead scoring to rank employers and to ensure they are compatible with your career pathways.
  • Market to departmental representatives, not just HR: This allows you to use any existing relationships across staff and career-seekers more effectively.
  • Utilize career events, alumni and projects for lead generation: Networking and connections help forge relationships with employer representatives. These relationships may then lead to student internship opportunities.
  • Make economic benefits clear to employers: Many employers engage in WBL to give back, but there are often financial benefits for them. Clarifying, measuring and reporting these will increase engagement.

Match Career-Seekers to Opportunities Systematically

Optimized programs should:

  • Encourage employers to adopt clear benchmark-based selection: Employers should select candidates via benchmarks for each pathway to reduce bias. Benchmarks extend competency models to include interests, values, personality, and projects, in addition to relevant and specific skills.
  • Create personalized career-seeker roadmaps to achieve goals: A WBL coordinator or counselor should ensure and update personalized career roadmaps for each career-seeker, including goals, timelines and resources.
  • Use universal standards for minimum criteria for internships: In order to deliver a consistent experience to students and employers, pathway programs should conform to a reputable set of standards.
  • Screen career-seekers prior to referring them to employers: Ask career-seekers to submit applications internally for review prior to referral whenever possible.

Implement Ancillary Career-Seeker Support Systems

Optimized programs should:

  • Provide wraparound support for career-seekers: Ensure that housing, food and other basic needs are covered. This will allow career-seekers to consider a long-term view of goals and opportunities.
  • Use technology to keep parents/guardians engaged: Use input from guardians as part of career-matching process. They often know their child better than anyone else. Provide updates to guardians on relevant developments. 

Outsource 10–50% of Coursework from Employers

Optimized programs should:

  • Get employer feedback on curriculum before program starts: Host annual meetings at which the local employer representatives may review the curriculum.
  • Source industry-guided project-based learning opportunities: Recruit engaged employer representatives to share case studies or challenges that can be used in class or during the summer.
  • Encourage employer representatives to provide grades and feedback. This reduces the weight on educators, engages career-seekers, and engages employers.
  • Customize coursework for technical and employability skills based on pathway needs: Often, career-seekers demonstrate strength in certain skills, but weakness in others. Modularize and recommend personalized curriculum that train specific skills to those career-seekers that need that training.

Improve Operations Systematically

Optimized programs should:

  • Establish and refine career-seeker outcome and WBL program goals: Define and track the specific metrics you would like to affect.
  • Refine and reconsider technology use on a regular basis: Optimized WBL requires so many tasks, roles and knowledge competencies that it is important to make your technology work for all.
  • Require annual WBL training for teachers and counselors: Consider teacher and counselor externships to keep educators fresh on industry trends. Share outcomes data about their alumni whenever possible.
  • Establish effective performance measurement and feedback tools: Regularly assess feedback and outcomes data against goals. While short-term effects are important indicators, establish ways to track outcomes 5+ years after program completion.

Creighton Taylor is founder and CEO of Guided Compass. Guided Compass is a Black-owned project- and work-based learning technology platform. It primarily focuses on three work-based learning pillars: career events (e.g., job shadows, workshops, webinars, career fairs), virtual projects (e.g., assignments, case studies, challenges), and work (e.g., internships, apprenticeships, part-time, and full-time). Guided Compass serves numerous high-quality WBL programs across the United States, including school districts (e.g., LA Unified, Detroit Public Schools) and independent workforce programs (e.g., UNITE-LA and the LA Chamber’s Bixel Exchange program). Email Creighton.