Work-based learning includes opportunities such as internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, career mentoring, and other hands-on job training that build specific skills and provide students real-world professional experience and networking opportunities. 

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.

At the same time, the importance of maintaining work-based learning experiences for students remains pertinent as the economic fallout resulting from the public health crisis increases the chance that high school and community college students could graduate during a recession. 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 these problems.

MDRC’s recent (virtual) discussion with representatives from 13 schools, districts, and program intermediaries that provide work-based learning found each of them seizing unexpected opportunities amid considerable challenges caused by the pandemic.

The changes needed to keep students learning (and, if applicable, being paid) require creative and rapid adjustments that allow programs to continue pursuing their work-based learning objectives. These adjustments might include solutions such as experimenting with shifts to shorter-term consultancies and short duration “micro-internships” to help strengthen the skills participants acquire in their training and education programs.