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Second, with additional funding, we believe the nation would benefit from having more work-based learning programs located in and operated by two-year colleges. We also conclude that secondary work-based learning programs could benefit from utilizing Tech Prep and similar articulation agreements to connect to postsecondary work-based learning. Programs serving a solely postsecondary population should be designed to recruit and educate older rather than younger students. These programs will need to work with businesses, some of which have already engaged older students in work-based learning opportunities. We believe that programs that require intensive occupational-technical training are most appropriate for the postsecondary level, especially those that provide career ladders upward to further postsecondary education. Programs in the health occupations, engineering technologies, business, and agriculture often provide these career ladders for students. In contrast, secondary work-based learning should concentrate on career exploration, pre-employment skills, understanding the nature of business and the world of work, basic workplace skill building (e.g., being on time, teamwork, communication), and developing a work ethic. Secondary programs should be designed to engage high school students more fully in understanding the workplace and preparing them for more extensive training at the time they enroll in the higher education or other employer-sponsored training experiences. Programs at either the secondary or postsecondary levels need to be conceptualized in a manner consistent with lifelong learning where individuals move back and forth between education and the workplace.
Third, many options are available to provide work experience and some have a long history. Cooperative education (co-op), job shadowing, and capstone internships are used to assist students to attain workplace experiences. These options continue to have value primarily because they are much more affordable than more intensive forms of work-based learning such as clinical-professional experiences or formal apprenticeships. However, a possible concern is that they place students in the work environment too late in the cycle of training and for too short a period of time. Furthermore, sometimes co-op is managed outside of the mainstream occupational-technical or transfer (academic) curriculum, possibly isolating it from the context of the occupation or industries where students will someday seek workplace learning or employment. All of this leads us to question whether some reconfiguration of co-op is needed so that the person or program that manages the curriculum is one and the same as the person or program that manages the co-op. Better coordination of the curriculum and co-op would have enormous benefits in terms of connecting the school-based learning and work-based learning components of the curriculum, and these connections will be particularly important if the number and scope of work-based learning programs is to grow in the future.
Fourth, even though the two-year work-based learning programs studied were operated very successfully, the struggle to create meaningful work-based learning and coordinate college-related and employer-related learning experiences for students was apparent. Consequently, we recommend that all colleges engaged in work-based learning should accept as their role the activities required to prepare businesses to accept students, including the design and preparation of the on-site learning environment, the training of the on-site monitoring staff, and the solving of the numerous political and legal problems that could influence the programs. To address the high cost of these programs and recognize the need to provide high-quality experiences for students, two-year colleges should investigate work-based learning arrangements that do not require intensive college staff supervision on-site.
In essence, colleges should explore work-based learning strategies that give more responsibility to the students--usually older students who have already acquired work experience--to manage their own workplace learning with the support of college personnel, workplace mentors, and sometimes other peer workers. Most older students have the maturity to handle themselves in the workplace, and they do not require the ongoing supervision often demanded of younger students. With older students, the focus of workplace learning should be on technical mastery, which requires highly concentrated interaction with an expert, along with supervised practice until the competency is demonstrated. Because of the nature of this type of experience, co-op is an attractive model for expanding work-based learning in the two-year college, if enhancements are made. For co-op to work more effectively, students should be taught how learning occurs, how to create and manage a learning project, and how to interact and interface with fellow employees at the work site. In addition, systems for reporting and accountability should be implemented and carefully monitored. An important role of college staff should be to monitor all work-based learning sites, ensuring that expected goals and outcomes are being accomplished.
Fifth, the success of the work-based learning programs was attributable to the program leader, along with the faculty and staff within the program. However, the role of two-year college administrators was much less clear, beyond providing institutional support expected for any academic program. For example, with the exception of a few programs, senior college administrators did not routinely interact with employers. They were familiar with local employers and expressed visible supportive for their contributions to the programs; however, there was no ongoing or strong personal connection with them. The reasons for this may have to do with the senior administrator's workload and this is an understandable limitation to the amount of personal contact that can be made with local employers. However, establishing closer relations between senior administrators and local employers may have benefits for the colleges that go beyond one particular program. First, the relationship between the college and the industry is less dependent upon one individual, the critical leader. In the event that the leader leaves the program, he or she may not endanger the college-employer partnership to as great a degree. Second, sensing a greater college commitment to employer needs, employers may respond with increased support and attention, possibly helping to address some of the financial concerns that plague these programs.
Finally, the research teams identified several other concerns that, while not directly related to work-based learning, could have an effect on it and on other occupational-technical programs as well. First, the establishment of a system of standards, certifications, and credentials would appear to be useful in bringing some order to a rather disordered workforce preparation system in the country. This concern has received a great deal of attention over the past few years and some initiatives are already in development under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Labor. Second, increased cooperation among two-year colleges within states and regions of the country, and among secondary and postsecondary systems would be beneficial. The high cost of work-based learning coupled with the dearth of available workplace learning sites makes cooperation an absolute necessity if further growth is to occur in the future. Regional planning that includes the dispersal and strategic location of vital programs and combined funding could help to ensure program availability to the widest number of students. If recruitment could be extended across boundaries to cover an entire locality, state, or region, then greater viability might result for some work-based learning programs.