Transferable skills are not only developed in school. Real-life work experience teaches students what life is like outside classroom walls.
Students may already have a career trajectory in mind, but the right work experience might either confirm or shift that trajectory. A student determined to become a lawyer may change course after a meaningful experience in the field. This saves time and money, as the student gains a better understanding of what career could be a good fit.
School-to-work opportunities give students a sense of responsibility, build time-management skills, offer collaborative opportunities, and provide important experiences. And as Siôn Phillpot points out in a great article in CareerAddict, self-reliance is another benefit of work experience:
"To an extent, university also helps you develop self-reliance. You are encouraged to find your own answers and build your own path. But applying this skill in an academic environment is entirely different from doing it in the workplace, and students develop a greater sense of self-awareness when there is more riding on their actions than just their own grades."
Whether a student's school offers programs or not, students can engage in the workplace outside of school hours and during school holidays. A one-week, unpaid internship in the summer does not seem like much, but that one week could change the way a student views and values a particular profession.
An article posted by the Hechinger Report states: "The effort is worth it. Let us offer every high school graduate, whether college bound now, in the future, or not at all, the opportuniy to develop the skills and confidence to succeed in careers that exist today– and ones that they can not yet imagine...Fortunately, we can take steps to bridge the gap between school and work. And we can do so in ways that recognize that all young people can benefit from work experience, whether they plan to go to college, pursue a credential or career, go to work, or some combination."
Every Student Learns Differently
Every learner has a unique profile. Studying theory, reading texts, engaging in classroom discussions, and drafting papers may help some students immerse themselves in a particular field. Others, however, may quickly forget or not fully comprehend theoretical discussions and texts. Learning by doing is a powerful way to bring traditional learning to life while providing context and real-world examples.
"A student can read something a hundred times over, but until they actually do it, there's no telling how well they can perform a task. Hands-on training allows one to be actively engaged with immediate practice in the new skill they are learning, which is essential to information retention."
What if Students Cannot Find Appropriate Work Placements?
Depending on where a student lives or attends school, finding the right work experience can be challenging. In this case, students should consider job shadowing.
A job shadowing student follows a professional for a day or longer to see what the job entails. While this may not provide the benefits of hands-on working, it is a worthwhile opportunity for growth and understanding.
Consider offering career fairs and presentations for students. Leverage the community as a resource; invite local professionals and parents to participate in career fairs or career days. This can be done virtually so professionals out of town can participate. Allow time for questions and answers and for students to speak with professionals one-on-one. Provide a questionnaire to participants to ensure that presentations cover:
- Their career journey
- What education was necessary to be successful
- What a typical day is like
- Pros and cons of working in this field
Alumni/ae are a wonderful audience to invite to your campus. Even if they are still studying and not yet full-time employees, they can paint a clear picture of what it is like to study within a specific post-secondary program. In addition, former students just starting their careers provide a great mentorship opportunity for current students. Before you begin, survey current students. If there is little interest in a career, it does not make sense to invite people from within this area. Try to align career fairs and presentations with students' interests.
New counselors and professionals should lean on career networks for inspiration and support in organizing events. Many schools have dedicated alumni/ae professionals; these colleagues are a great asset in reaching out to former students. Engage with counselors at other schools and within the state/region/country for additional guidance. Small schools can easily pool their resources and provide larger career fairs for students.
Work-based education and school-to-work models are not meant to replace classroom education. But they are a valuable supplemental experience to help students thrive in their post-secondary lives.
Counselors and administrators should contact the local community and brainstorm ways to offer students learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Schools can also provide job boards and internship opportunities within their dedicated school educational platform.