A recent CNN article tells the story of 20-year-old William Yznaga, a full-time software developer at Hyland Software in Ohio, whose pathway to the job began with a middle school field trip to the company. That visit led to an after-school internship in high school and further internship opportunities in college. This continuum of work-based learning opportunities helped land him a coveted job in a fast-growing and high-paying field. Perkins V encourages states to make Yznaga’s experience much more common.
Decades of research support the benefits of work-based learning, such as internships or job-shadowing experiences, for high-schoolers and college students. Work-based learning can teach young people about promising careers, strengthen such employability skills as communication and time management, increase low-income students’ social capital, boost college attendance and set the stage for stronger performance in college.
Yet the little information available on students’ access to work-based learning opportunities suggests that Yznaga’s experience is rare: A 2016 survey, for example, found that 19 percent of teens reported having opportunities to shadow professionals in their jobs and 34 percent said they had access to career counseling. The number of 16- to 19-year-olds with a year-round job dropped from roughly 44 percent to just under 25 percent from 1998 to 2010 and rose to about 29 percent by 2017. High school internships are in short supply, and those that exist often go to students with social connections.
Perkins V places much greater emphasis on work-based learning than Perkins IV did. The very phrase appears 15 times in Perkins V, compared with twice in Perkins IV. The law now:
- Offers a new definition of work-based learning. Unlike Perkins IV, Perkins V defines the term, suggesting guardrails for quality: “sustained interactions with industry or community professionals in real workplace settings, to the extent practicable, or simulated environments at an educational institution that foster in depth, firsthand engagement with the tasks required in a given career field, that are aligned to curriculum and instruction.” Work-based learning goes well beyond career days.
- Allows Perkins funds to support work-based learning. Perkins V specifies that state and local agencies can spend Perkins funds on efforts to promote, create or expand work-based learning opportunities.
- Requires states and localities to describe how they will develop or expand work-based learning opportunities. Local applications for Perkins funding must describe the opportunities they plan to provide to students who participate in CTE programs and how they will work with employers to develop or expand these programs.
- Encourages stronger collaboration with employers to promote work-based learning. States must describe how they will support collaboration between secondary schools, postsecondary institutions and employers to give students access to internships, mentorships, simulated work environments and other hands-on or inquiry-based learning activities. Local applicants for Perkins funding must also work with industry leaders to identify and encourage opportunities for work-based learning.
- Offers states the option to include work-based learning in their CTE performance data. States may include “the percentage of CTE concentrators graduating from high school having participated in work-based learning” among the CTE performance indicators in their annual state reports.
- Requires states to share information on work-based learning opportunities. States must describe how they will make information available to students, parents and educators.
Delaware has been a trailblazer in offering students experiences that measure up to the Perkins V definition of work-based learning: They are sustained, relevant to industry needs and closely aligned with curricula. What began in 2014 as then-Gov. Jack Markell’s commitment to creating relevant career pathways has blossomed into a robust set of pathways and new internship opportunities for high-schoolers. Del Tech, the state’s only community college, offers rising high school seniors a two-year manufacturing pathway that features a 200-hour paid internship and concludes with up to 13 college credits and national certifications that qualify students for jobs.
Perkins V gives states incentives to follow Delaware’s lead, but it does not guarantee universal or even widespread access to effective work-based learning opportunities. States will need to take the lead to ensure that more students get a crack at real-world work in high school and college.