Work Matters column by AMBER GOOTEE
To adequately teach career and college readiness among high school students, community partnerships are essential.
As a Workforce Leader with Nelson County Schools, my team and I work primarily with seniors who, throughout their school day, earn credits by pursuing work or volunteer opportunities throughout the community. The work we do is all about the power of people, place and purpose. In other words, we help students find their purpose by connecting them to the right people at the right places. Often, these people are regional employers who are willing to partner with us to help us train the next generation of professionals.
Last year, Nelson County Schools partnered with over 150 regional employers to offer work experience opportunities for students. We also offer plenty of work experience at school, including in our classrooms, our IT department, our creative media department, our accounting department, our maintenance department and our care clinic. Over 300 students participated in the program last year, totaling approximately 93 percent of the student body.
While these opportunities are often referred to as Work-Based Learning Opportunities (WBLOs), we at Nelson County Schools have started referring to them as Profession-Based Experiences, to better reflect the career readiness we are aiming to provide for students through the program.
For students participating in our Profession-Based Experiences program, much of their preparation for the program is completed in their junior year, where they are provided with a day of job shadowing with a participating employer of their choice and a school-wide mock interview event. In addition, we offer a Community Connect event in which students complete a résumé and our community partners conduct real job interviews.
Our students gain experience in several capacities, including apprenticeships/pre-apprenticeships, clinical experience, cooperative learning, entrepreneurship experience, experience-based work, internships, school-based enterprise and service learning. We have students working as student aides, in law offices, in manufacturing facilities, in healthcare facilities and so much more.
These experiences look different for every student. For example, some may want to see what a college internship at a law office will be like, while others want to see what it would be like to go straight into a career as a mechanic. Individualized support is essential to help students achieve their long-term goals.
This idea of individualized learning extends to students’ school schedule as well. Some may prefer to work in the morning and attend classes at school in the afternoon, while others prefer the opposite. It’s all about catering to the student’s individual needs in order to obtain the best possible outcome.
Profession-Based Experiences not only provide specific hands-on skills, but also a boost in confidence that comes from contributing to the operation of a business or organization, along with valuable opportunities for social networking.
WBLO programs are not just beneficial to students, but also to employers. By partnering with schools on these kinds of programs, employers have the opportunity to mentor and train the future workforce. Providing employees with mentorship experience is extremely valuable, and making these opportunities available can be a great way to boost workplace morale and improve retention.
Employers of all sizes and in nearly all industries can benefit from partnering with secondary schools to offer WBLOs. When you provide work opportunities for students, you are helping to cultivate a pipeline of future employees.
Through programs like Nelson County Schools’ Profession-Based Experiences, we are providing the next generation of professionals with competencies for the future, and our regional employers are an integral part of this equation.
The Kentucky Career Center - Lincoln Trail also works with employers to organize WBLOs and offers no-cost assistance to help graduating seniors start their career path. Counselors can help students find out what careers match their interests and talents; learn about essential workplace skills that will make them marketable to employers; determine if they qualify for free training or tuition and more. To learn more, visit https://ltcareercenter.org/.
Amber Gootee serves as a Workforce Leader with Nelson County Schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.