The Barriers of Work Based Learning in Schools

Picture this: it’s senior year of high school, and you’ve just barely turned 18. Everyone around you is asking you “What’s your plan for the rest of your life?” and your response is always “I have no idea!” Would things have been different if your school had offered work based learning or career and technical education programs? Would you have an idea of your interests? 

Work based learning (WBL) is a real-life work experience brought to students by educators, allowing students to connect what they have learned in the classroom, to potential careers for their future. This creates a full circle effect, and  gives students the opportunity to continue learning, while making informed decisions about their career. According to an ASA study done in 2020, research has previously shown that students who participate in work based learning are more interested in getting an education, and develop necessary skills, both professional and technical, that are necessary for success in future careers.

This sounds great, right?! We’d love to implement this in every school, as soon as possible! If only it were that easy… Work based learning and CTE programs require a lot of work, a lot of planning, and frankly, a budget! 

“….Students who participate in work based learning are more interested in getting an education, and develop necessary skills, both professional and technical, that are necessary for success in future careers.”

One of the biggest barriers to WBL is the accessibility for all students. Where these programs already exist, very few of them are able to provide transportation to and from the employer. This prohibits students without vehicles or reliable transportation from participating in these programs. Transportation can be a barrier both within school hours and in personal time. 

This leads us to another barrier, allowing students to participate in the work itself during school hours. Students have their own barriers outside of school and in their personal lives. Providing employment that occurs during school hours can eliminate the struggle some students face with after hours activities. 

On the logistics side, simply recruiting employers can be a barrier as well. Employers may not see the long term effects of having pre-apprenticeships, internships, etc. Being an employer also comes with a different set of standards and responsibilities that may turn an employer away. Hosting high school students, though, can be very beneficial to companies, keeping the same staff for long periods of time, and having a staff that is genuinely interested in the job they are doing.

Finally, one of the most important barriers schools are currently facing is the workforce shortage. As we all know, schools are struggling to hire, just like all other fields of employment. This can lead to a lack of WBL or CTE programs in schools, or lead to a program that isn’t quite producing the results that the district, employers, or even students had hoped for.

Taking on all of these barriers seems daunting from the start. It’s important to remember to take baby steps in the right direction. For example, expecting an employer to just accept the program for what it is, it might be beneficial to learn what it is they need, and how students can be of assistance to them. Consider diving deep into what has previously been successful, and what hasn’t, before beginning your own program.

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