What can looking at examples of Work-Based Learning Plans tell us about quality youth employment programs?

  • Characteristics of Quality Work and Learning Experiences
  • Recommendations
  • Examples of WBLP Career and Workplace Specific Skills

  • Characteristics of Quality Work and Learning Experiences

    A picture of quality work and learning programs, based on analysis and review of Work-Based Learning Plans and other information

    Characteristic #1: Effectively Connecting Employers and Youth.

    By brokering summer and year-round employment opportunities, youth employment programs connect youth who might not otherwise have employment, and connect employers who might not otherwise hire youth employees.

    A high-quality jobs program provides an easy-to-access way for youth and employers to connect. In the best programs, the connection feels very natural and community-focused. In these high-quality programs, the various state and federal funding sources for programming are somewhat invisible to the participating youth and to the public. Instead, the community observes a community-wide effort to connect youth with employers and to allow the youth to gain skills and make useful contributions to their communities and workplaces, whether serving ice cream at the local ice cream shop, helping with summer office projects in a local business or government office, working with children in a summer camp or helping to maintain local parks, sports fields and playgrounds.

    In the best programs, the participants not only earn money, but, more importantly, learn by experience that a job is more than a paycheck, but a way to make a contribution, develop skills and develop self-confidence.

    WBLP Tip: When writing a job description and list of skills/tasks, include background information about the employer organization and/or the customers and the goals of the work, in order to share this information with the participants and show how their work supports the organization, fits in with the organization's goals, and supports the customers and/or larger community.

    WBLP Examples and Highlights: Industries and Career Areas where participants work include: Environment and "Green" Technology * Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) * The Arts * Local History and Government * Local Museums * Construction and Design * Healthcare * Health and Wellness * Customer Service, Retail and Food Service * Restaurants * Parks and Recreation * Landscaping * Maintenance * Childcare and Education * Sports Programs * Youth Leadership Programs * Entrepreneurship * School-Based Enterprises * Community Service * More....

    Characteristic #2: Focusing Explicitly on Skill Development and Career Awareness.

    Youth employment programs ideally provide explicit opportunities for participants to develop skills and develop career awareness through a variety of structured approaches:

    • Use of the Work-Based Learning Plan;
    • Orientation workshops;
    • Ongoing weekly workshops on career skills or other topics;
    • End-of-summer or end-of-program events;
    • Use of a journal to write about projects and skills learned;
    • Opportunities to read about the career area or to connect with summer reading initiatives;
    • Connections to classroom instruction to help students prepare for standardized tests, work toward high school credits, or meet other goals.

    WBLP Tip: Use the WBLP as a guide for a formal or informal orientation or weekly workshops. Refer to the WBLP again when planning end-of-summer or end-of-program events in order to highlight the skills exercised during the program.

    WBLP Tip: If practical, in the WBLP list of skills/tasks, include Career Development or Understanding All Aspects of the Industry or other skills that encourages participants to learn more about the organization and about career opportunities in the field. And if practical, when designing the job description and skills/tasks, include opportunities for participants to read about the career area or about the organization.

    Characteristic #3: Providing Supervision Consistent with Youth Development.

    In any employment setting, whether for youth or adults, day-to-day supervision should provide a balance of independence and supervisory support consistent with the type of work being done and the experience and skill level of the employees. Summer employment programs present the challenge of working in a short time frame to identify work projects and develop and implement a supervisory structure.

    In some youth employment programs, there are team leaders funded by the program who supervise groups of youth who are working in larger-scale projects (such as teachers hired for the summer to supervise youth in summer employment projects). In other programs, the employer organization provides all supervision. In either case, youth program staff are available to help to provide orientation to the youth, help the employer develop job descriptions and tasks, and provide ongoing support.

    Finding the right balance of support is important. As teens and young adults begin their early work experiences, they bring a mixture of skills and readiness to these experiences. Teens and young adults have an emerging ability for complex reasoning and intellectual development. They are excited by opportunities to learn about the background and history of an organization, understand the larger context of their work, and understand how their work contributes to the goals of the organization. They appreciate settings in which they are respected and treated like adults. At the same time, while they are starting to develop problem-solving skills, and starting to learn about careers and work, teens generally need clear guidance about how to manage workplace expectations for time management, attendance and punctuality, workplace appearance, taking initiative and other basic skills.

    Many youth employment programs provide orientation sessions and workshops to provide explicit information about basic workplace expectations and skills as well as other job and career-related instruction. Programs use the Work-Based Learning Plan to communicate expectations and often use the job description and skills and tasks lists to provide information about the background of the organization and the larger context of the work. The Work-Based Learning Plan helps to open up conversations between supervisors and youth about a range of topics relevant to skill development.

    WBLP Tip: Use the WBLP as a tool to open up conversations about the context of the work, the history and goals of the organization, and other topics of interest, as well as to outline the basic foundation skills needed on the job. Throughout the WBLP and other program materials, use language that sets a positive, professional tone.

    WBLP Tip: When practical, when writing a job description and list of skills/tasks, include information about "who, what, when, where, why, how" in order to effectively communicate expectations and share information about the context of the work.

    WBLP Tip: Emphasize workplace safety through Work-Based Learning Plans and through formal or informal orientation to the workplace. Highlight health and safety issues that are specific to the area of work.

    Characteristic #4: Providing Opportunities for Project Management and Higher Order Skills.

    Teens and young adults generally welcome the opportunity to work on challenging projects that allow them to develop technical and career-related skills. Teens and young adults also enjoy more basic or routine projects because these tasks are enjoyable and they can see the importance of their work to the organization and its customers. Most summer employment programs seek a blend of challenging and routine tasks, in order to create a positive and productive summer experience for youth and supervisors.

    Good practices include:

    • Including a blend of challenging and routine tasks.
    • Explicitly identifying opportunities to use higher-order skills, including critical thinking, creativity, collecting and organizing information, writing, speaking and using technology.
    • Structuring work to give youth responsibility for project management.

    For example:

  • Youth working as summer custodians in a school building may be responsible for helping to move boxes and get classrooms ready for fall. Youth can be given responsibility for project management and for managing a timeline for task completion.
  • Youth working as classroom teaching assistants or camp counselors may be given responsibility for preparing and presenting a lesson plan or camp activity as well as for day-to-day tasks.
  • Summer projects like a building weatherization project, an entrepreneurial jewelry-making project, or a culinary project provide opportunities to use math, business skills and other skills.
  • Organizations may rotate summer employees among a variety of different opportunities.
  • In any job, Work-Based Learning Plans and orientation or workshop sessions may identify opportunities for higher-order skills, including critical thinking, creativity, collecting and organizing information, writing, speaking and using technology. For example, a WBLP for a youth working in a retail setting identifies creativity as one of the important career skills, and describes the importance of understanding color, style and texture in organizing and presenting merchandise for display. A workshop might focus on sales and customer service issues, integrating instruction about basic customer service skills with higher order skills of sales management and marketing.
  • WBLP Tip: When practical, include project management opportunties and higher-order skills in the WBLP.

    Characteristic #5: Integrating Work and Learning.

    To be successful in the 21st century, youth need a combination of strong academic, technical and employability skills. As teens and young adults are establishing their educational and career goals, youth employment programs can provide the ideal environment for understanding the connections among all these sets of skills. Youth employment programs provide excellent opportunities to create fully integrated work and learning experiences. Programs that integrate classroom instruction with workplace experience can provide opportunities for formal study of work-related topics, writing projects, reading, math applications and more, related to a workplace experience.

    WBLP Tip: When a youth employment program integrates classroom learning and workplace experience, use the WBLP as one tool for highlighting the skills that connect the work and learning experiences.

    Characteristic #6: Using Positive Marketing and Outreach Strategies.

    Whether through a formal marketing and outreach plan or through approaches that evolve informally, high quality youth employment programs have a clear identity and have a clearly-accessible system so that youth, employers and community members know how to get involved and can choose from a range of employment and related career development activities. Marketing messages are positive and are both youth-focused and community-focused, using asset-based language that focuses on strengths of the participating youth and strengths of the community.

    Characteristic #7: Effectively Collecting and Using Data.

    High quality youth employment programs recognize the value of data collection and data use. Data is used not only for required reporting but is also shared with a variety of audiences for learning about the job market and skills used by participants, for program marketing and outreach, for program evaluation and for other aspects of managing the program. Staff are supported in the development of data management skills, including:

    • Data Collection and Data Integrity
    • Software Use
    • Maintenance and File Management
    • Analyzing and Presenting Data
    • Planning and Design Skills

    WBLP Tip: When listing skills in Section 2: Career and Workplace Skills, choose skill names that can be listed on a participant's resume or listed on a summary report that identifies skills used in the program. Use short, clear skill names like "Blueprint Reading," "Accounting Skills," "Animal Care," or "Attention to Detail."

    WBLP Tip: Explore the Reports Menu to find reports that summarize WBLP information and think about ways you can use these summaries in presentations to a variety of audiences, including employers, parents, teachers, participants and members of the community.


    Use creative strategies to develop a wide range of employment opportunities for youth and thoughtfully match participants with opportunities based on interests, skills and availability. Understand the economic climate and thoughtfully build strong relationships with private sector, nonprofit sector and public sector employers to support youth employment. Be familiar with the local economy and consider a wide range of learning-rich opportunities:

    Understand the developmental needs of teens and young adults and provide work opportunities that provide support as participants develop basic workplace foundation skills and also provide responsibility, challenging work, and opportunities to develop higher order career skills.

    Design outreach, marketing, program materials, job descriptions, skill/task lists and other communications to convey positive, effective messages. In marketing and messaging, focus on how employment programs allow participants to make a positive contribution to the community and to develop skills and learn about career options. (In contrast, avoid communications that portray employment programs as a prevention strategy or that label participants as high-risk or high-need.)

    Recognize opportunities to make explicit connections between work and learning in summer and year-round employment programs. Use available tools (workshops, orientation, Work-Based Learning Plan, classroom instruction, etc.) to enrich the work experience. Provide career development opportunities and encourage youth to explore and enter higher education, apprenticeships and advanced skills training in high-demand careers.

    Make data collection a positive, integral part of the organization's work. Develop clear routines and definitions to make data collection relatively effortless. Use program information collected through program activities (through the WBLP, placement screens and elsewhere) not only for required reporting but also for marketing, outreach, sharing information with participants and with the community and other aspects of program management.

    Examples of Career and Workplace Specific Skills

    Job Title Skill Skill / Task Description
    Environmental Service Intern Project Management Assist in the removal of invasive species, in order to maintain the native species. Develop a planting scheme for future planting projects involving native species.
    Park Landscaper Weeding Identifying unwanted or invasive plants. Pulling them out to draw attention to intended plants in the area.
    Community Service Intern Interacting with Children -Assist staff in leading various sports activities including drills and games for campers. -Assist with lunch preparation, paying close attention to health and safety issues.
    Child Care Intern Interacting with Children -Read stories to children with the opportunity for story discussion. Assist children in their free time choices such as the tabletop activities. Help children to relax by reading them a story or by rubbing their backs to help them fall asleep.
    Art Intern Computer Technology Design using computer software to create flyers and brochures for the program.
    Custodial Intern Project Management Student will meet with supervisor and other staff members about the projects that will be accomplished over the course of the program. Student will be responsible for various pieces of project and will work with staff to meet their goals.
    Weatherization Auditor Mathematics and Numeric Analysis Enter numerical data from energy audit, and complete an analysis based on data.
    Sea Lab Technician Mathematics and Numeric Analysis The students must collect water samples from the various tanks, test the water, and analyze the samples. They then may need to treat the water using any combination of chemicals ensuring the correct chemical levels in each tank. They also must measure the water levels, tank temperatures and correct amount of food to feed the fish and animals.
    For Technical Assistance

    Jennifer Leonard
    The Skills Library (consultant to ESE)
    Telephone: 781-321-7894

    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    Web: http://skillslibrary.com