In The Newly Virtual Workplace: Employers and Trainers Adapt, MDRC notes, “The abrupt shift to virtual educational interactions precipitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic hit work-based learning opportunities that are often central to career and technical education programs especially hard...  Maximizing work-based learning opportunities while students are in high school and community college—and keeping students connected to the labor market—may be an important way to mitigate [some of the economic fallout resulting from the public health crisis].”  (Dalporto, Hannah and Swarts, Will. The Newly Virtual Workplace: Employers and Trainers Adapt. MDRC.  https://www.mdrc.org/publication/newly-virtual-workplace-employers-and-trainers-adapt, accessed 3/18/21).

Many YouthBuild programs have found connecting to in-person work experiences nearly impossible during the pandemic, where the guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 has forced many businesses to limit in-person work, and reduce their workforces, either temporarily or permanently.  This has required YouthBuild programs to innovate and find creative solutions to allow participants to still receive work experiences to support their ongoing training and placement potential.  In particular, this has meant assessing the mid-pandemic Labor Market Information to understand what emerging industries are that can still be viable work experience partners during the pandemic and beyond.  IT also means thinking of creative non-traditional ways to conduct work experiences remotely. While maximizing YouthBuild participants' professional work experiences has always required thoughtful and creative planning with staff and participant commitment to that plan, this is even more necessary, and challenging, now.  Below are some steps YouthBuild programs can take to support virtual work experiences.

  1. Survey employer partners to identify immediate needs that YouthBuild participants can help meet. Many national and regional employers have indicated a demand for social media, digital media, and coding skills during the pandemic, as the internet has become more important than ever before for connection. Consider this: What can the YouthBuild program do to teach and train participants in the basics of those skills?

  2. Consider shortening work experiences if necessary. Creating a shorter-term “micro-internship” may be more feasible for employer partners to start, and if it proves successful, the employer may be open to expanding the time into a more significant professional work experience. Consider this: What is a reasonable amount of time for a “micro-internship”?

  3. Take advantage of remote work-based learning opportunities. Approach companies outside of the immediate area or state that could support remote work-based learning through some form of telework. Consider this: How will the program ensure that participants can access technology?

  4. Remote work-based learning opportunities remove one barrier for the short term: transportation to the work experience. However, they create another barrier in terms of the technology requirements for remote work.Consider this: How will the program ensure that the participant has a remote workspace to do their work experience undisturbed?

  5. Ensure that the process and experience of planning and implementing a work experience is a consistent and integrated part of YouthBuild education and training. This step has not changed due to the pandemic; a strong work experience is always aligned with the education and occupational training and should provide more real-world context for the learning.Consider this: How can the YouthBuild program research and tap into virtual internships that can count towards industry certifications? How might the YouthBuild program revamp its professional skills training to include participant-led activities such as arranging speakers for online forums, developing micro-internship placements, creating and delivering workshops, or organizing career-related “e-vents”?

A significant benefit of this virtual context for work experience is the potential for increasing access to a range of employers who might otherwise be out of reach for participants, either geographically or based on the job requirements.  Some industries may be shifting the entry requirements and skill set necessary to participate in the occupation, due to pandemic shortages, or the business has evolved during the pandemic to meet demand. Still, YouthBuild programs should consider how such remote work will affect professional networking and relationship building and plan to provide weekly interactive work experience support to participants throughout their work experiences and any post-program placements.

Be sure to register for the April 27th webinar, “COVID-19 Lessons Learned: Structuring DOL YouthBuild Work Experiences In and Out of Pandemic Times.”  This webinar will share steps to support development of a meaningful work experience, including a checklist for planning and implementation.  It will also feature peer presenters who will spotlight their promising practices.

Related Resources

YouthBuild Work Experience: Bridging Young Adults to Employment and Economic Security

Connecting Opportunity Youth and Employers Through Work-Based Learning

Paid and Unpaid Work Experience Resources

How to Develop an Effective Work-Based Learning Program

Apprenticeship Resource Page

Our Journey Together: WIOA Work Experience Activities Brief