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During the past few years, high schools and colleges increasingly have sought work-based learning opportunities for students. They have solicited internship positions, expanded cooperative education programs, created youth apprenticeships, and are now building school-to-work transition systems, all of which include work-based learning elements.
In midsized and large organizations, HR or training staff usually have responsibility for coordinating with schools and overseeing students' work-site experiences. Sometimes, consultants help prepare employees to instruct, mentor, supervise, and evaluate the students.
Does work-based learning work? What are the potential benefits and disadvantages for the organizations providing the experiences and for the students? What should organizations look for when approached about participating? And what roles can trainers play in planning and operating such programs?
We recently completed a broad-ranging study of work-based learning and found that its quality varies widely. Some high-school cooperative education programs are little more than convenient escape hatches for unmotivated students, but other programs provide rigorous preparation and carefully coordinated work-based learning experiences.
Research indicates that work-based learning excites and motivates most students. It usually has positive, albeit small, effects on students' academic performance, graduation rates, and enrollment in post-secondary education. And it has led to full-time job positions for some students.
Employers participate primarily to scout, recruit, and train future employees, and to contribute to upgrading education in their communities. Most participating employers are pleased with the students and the programs; other employers have been reluctant to participate because they anticipate inadequate support from the schools, high costs of training and …