They say there is no substitute for experience, and many IPS students are taking that to heart through the district’s Work-Based Learning Program.

Gaining real-world work experience with companies throughout the city, students have the opportunity to participate in paid internships, job shadowing, learning excursions, guest speakers and competitive employment options.

These opportunities are usually facilitated by an IPS work-based learning coordinator (WBLC), who follows leads and prospects to reach out to interested partner companies.

Once a connection has been made with a partner organization, the WBLC develops a work plan appropriate for a high school student, working with parents and students to create a schedule, and assign duties appropriate for both student and employer in accordance to both labor laws and the company’s work policies.

The goal is to place students in a program where they can apply the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom into a real work scenario.

Coordinators visit classrooms to spread the word about work-based learning opportunities and give interested students the chance to discuss it. Interested students go through a process to ensure they meet the requirements, are in good academic standing, and have room in their schedule for work.

Once approved, the WBLC and pathway instructor recruit students for the position. Students develop a resume and must participate in a mock interview to prepare them for their real one with the employer. If they’re a good fit, the student is “hired” into the role. The WBLC establishes a schedule with the employer to track the student’s progress, and ensures they are properly engaged and meeting the requirements of the program.

“The student work plans are developed to be challenging, but manageable,” said Derrick Barnett, work-based learning coordinator at Arsenal Technical High School. “They’re designed to reflect the actual duties of a full-time employee but have a lighter touch.”

Most programs so far have taken place over summer break, when students generally don’t have the additional stress of school, allowing them to focus on their job roles. But with some programs, students can obtain school credit for work-based learning experiences depending on the program and availability.

One important aspect of the program is giving students the opportunity to actually earn wages for their work. Career Technical Education Pathways Director Jennifer Berry said paying students is important to the success of work-based learning opportunities.

Students are paid either hourly, between $9.50 to $12 per hour, or via a stipend paid at the end. “In my mind, real work should equal real pay,” said Berry.

The work-based learning program has gained traction at the state level, garnering recommendations from Governor Eric Holcomb’s Workforce Cabinet, which already has attracted additional employers who are eager to find and develop future members of the workforce.

“More employers want to help build pathways to their industries for students,” Berry said. “This gives students more opportunities for employment in the future.”

For the 2019-20 school year, the district will place a greater emphasis on placing students in internships during the school year, a strategy which will help students develop multitasking skills.

Additionally, the district’s new Graduation Pathway requirements, which begin with the class of 2023, will mandate that students demonstrate “employability skills.” This requirement can be met by completing work-based learning (though project- and service-based activities will also meet the requirements).

“For years, local employers have wanted to engage with IPS students to provide mentoring, employment and other supports,” Barnett said. “WBL is the right approach to convene and engage employers.”

Coordinators thus far have arranged for students to participate in work-based learning at several companies, including:

  • IUPUI School of Informatics.
  • The Alexander Hotel.
  • Eli Lilly and Company.
  • Messer Construction.
  • Pepper Construction.
  • Nextech Catapult.
  • Conexus Indiana – FedEx and UPS.

“Overall, student reaction to WBL has been positive,” Barnett said. “Students are eager to have the opportunity to job shadow professionals such as an architect, a plumber or a civil engineer. They’re also excited about the opportunity to visit Purdue, Ball State and other colleges and universities.”

Ashwyn H., a senior in the Auto Service Pathway at Arsenal Tech, is one of our students participating in a yearlong work-based learning co-op with Eli Lilly’s Craft Management Department.

He said he’s learned valuable lessons throughout his time in the program.

“My experience at Eli Lilly has made me pay more attention to safety, getting the job done right the first time, and being committed to my work,” said Ashwyn, who plans to enroll in Ivy Tech’s Automotive Technology program in August. “Also, I have learned that teamwork is very important in accomplishing goals.”

The work-based learning program’s overarching goal is making work-based learning opportunities more widely available. Ideally, more students will become involved, choosing one or more opportunities throughout their time at school.

“Our goal is for all students to be involved in work-based learning opportunities,” Berry said.