Meaningful, hands-on work experience is an integral part of developing a strong career pathway for YouthBuild participants. These opportunities are an essential element of the YouthBuild program, a culmination of career preparation before the end of active programming.
Work experience is a planned, structured employment opportunity that is tied to the career goals and interests of the participants. The youth perform specific tasks and learn skills under the supervision of an employer, which, in its best instance, can be a “try out” for permanent placement. Work experiences can be designed in a variety of ways depending on the program, the partners, and the training curricula. These can be paid or unpaid, of differing durations, and with variable weekly hours.
Work experience can provide significant training for participants and be a valuable preparation tool. Careful planning will ensure that the work experience will benefit both the participants and the employment partners. Many factors should be considered when planning for these opportunities, and program staff, participants, and the employers need to be included in the process.
Critical first steps include assessing the active employer partnership opportunities available for work experience, determining what those work experiences will be and how they align with each participant’s career pathway, and which YouthBuild staff will take lead and which will take supporting roles in ensuring that the different steps of the work experience take place. All YouthBuild staff should have a responsible role in the design, implementation, and follow through of the work experiences. All of the below should have a vested interest and accountability for a successful work experience:
- Job developer/placement specialist
- Case manager
- Academic instructor
- Construction/C+ trainer
- Employer partner
- Postsecondary education partner
Participants’ career interests should be identified early, reassessed often during program participation, and used as a planning tool to align work experience placements to those interests. Partners in the related career fields should be enlisted as early as possible to provide the work experience on schedule. These partners may require or advocate for specific training and certifications for the participants to better prepare them. Employer partners may also support the program as guest speakers, offer a business tour, and meet with participants prior to the work experience to better understand the goals of the YouthBuild program and the needs of the participants, and to foster an early level of trust and engagement with youth. A Memorandum of Understanding is necessary to articulate clear agreement of the number of anticipated available slots for participants, the scope of tasks assigned, how to align needed skills with training, and the roles and responsibilities of all parties, including methods for continuous communication. Cultivating these partnerships will help to ensure that the work experience will benefit both the partner and the participant.
Core tasks and considerations for creating and implementing work experiences include:
- Identifying and securing partners providing the work experience
- Work experience title and description
- Work experience location and availability of transportation
- Schedule and hours
- If paid, the form and type of payment, as well as who is paying (i.e. paid out of YouthBuild stipend funds, a split between the grant and employer, or just the employer?)
- How work experience will be supervised
- Required uniform, footwear, safety gear, and tools
- Safety requirements and protocols
- Expected interactions with the public, such as customers, clients, or patients
- Career pathway alignment of knowledge/experience/skills needed and learned and experience gained through performing the work
- How the related career pathway curriculum/competencies will be reinforced
- Professional education, training, and/or completion testing during the work experience
- Networking opportunities for participants with industry partners through work experience
- Technology coursework, platforms, training provided as part of the work experience
During these especially challenging and unprecedented times, developing quality work experience opportunities may be even more difficult, as many of them may have to be done virtually, limiting the viability of some work experience placements. Even so, work experience is a necessary part of the career pathway and an invaluable tool to demonstrate to employers the skills and strengths of YouthBuild participants.