Job seekers are looking for work and employers are searching for workers. Connecting these two parties in a mutually beneficial relationship is a win-win scenario, and work-based learning programs are one way to bridge the gap.
“Work-based learning is a broad term that includes different strategies, such as an apprenticeship that includes learning at a worksite,” says Rachel Hirsch, state network manager at the National Skills Coalition. Other types of work-based learning include internships, volunteer service and job shadowing. While there is no universal definition, Hirsch says learning that combines instruction at a worksite during paid employment and culminates in an industry-recognized credential is often heralded as the gold standard of workforce training.
These are the top three benefits of creating a work-based learning program.
“Businesses get a productive employee and can align training with the specific needs of their occupation and industry,” Hirsch says. “Work-based learning leads to increased employee retention and lower turnover costs.” According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers want problem-solving skills and the ability to work with a team, followed by written communication skills, leadership and a strong work ethic.
“As an employer, you’re getting someone who understands your company — what you do and how you operate,” says Liz Smith, senior vice president for economic competitiveness at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “They’re developing the technical skills and also understanding the cultural side, so they can transition seamlessly.”
Employers want to hire workers with experience, but workers can’t gain experience unless employers hire them. However, work-based learning eliminates this Catch-22. “Work-based learning programs provide students with options for career employment, while also recognizing the need for additional education, says Dr. Joseph C. Rallo, senior advisor for the Louisiana Board of Regents.
“These programs create a very important path for students to enter the workforce, achieve a meaningful salary and pursue a fulfilling career.” For students who don’t have the time, money or desire to pursue a four-year degree, Rallo says, “work-based learning can expand the menu of opportunities for recent high-school graduates or community college attendees.”
Workers actually gain several benefits from this type of program. “They obtain valuable skills and industry-recognized credentials while also earning a wage,” Hirsch says. “Being able to ‘earn and learn’ is especially important for low-income people with pressing financial needs and obligations.”
Smith adds, “From the employee side, you get an opportunity to learn and develop soft and technical skills,” exactly the kinds of skills that NACE hiring managers stated they wanted to see in job applicants. NACE also revealed another competitive advantage: While general work experience is important, specific experience gained while working for the hiring company or in the hiring company’s industry provides an edge for job seekers.
And, depending on the type of work-based learning program chosen, employees can earn significantly more. “In registered apprenticeships, apprentices will earn about $300,000 more than non-apprentices working in the same field over the course of their career,” Hirsch says.
A final advantage is the opportunity to “try on” a company, Smith says. “You can see if you really like doing this type of work, and if you like to work for this particular company.”
A recent survey by Adecco of 500 U.S. executives reveals that 92% of them don’t think American workers are as skilled as they need to be. And the skills gap hits close to home, as well. “In Louisiana, middle-skill jobs — those that require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree — account for 57% of Louisiana’s labor market, but only 46% of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level,” Hirsch says. “This skills gap limits economic growth and is also a missed opportunity for low-skilled, low-wage workers who could fill these better-paying positions with the right training.”
When companies are deciding where to build their headquarters or expand to a new area, they consider whether the people in a given location have the skills they need. Attracting new businesses is crucial to the state’s growth. For example, when Amazon chooses the site for its second headquarters, the company has stated that it will invest $5 billion in construction and eventually create 50,000 well-paying jobs.
Northwestern State University’s Engineering Technology Department has a nationally acclaimed Advanced Manufacturing Technician program. “The selected students work three days a week at one of the sponsoring manufacturers — AFCO Industries, Alliance Compressors, Boise Cascade, Pilgrim’s, Procter & Gamble, RoyOMartin and Stella-Jones — and attend classes two days a week,” says Wayne L. Denley, vice president of knowledge platforms for the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.
Whether in class or with the sponsors, the schedule for each weekday is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “In five semesters, these students have several industry certificates and an associate degree, with no student debt,” Denley says. “And they have work experience that is valuable to them and their employer.”
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