Making WBL Easy to Understand

Work-based learning is a huge component in both the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the IT JD NEG/DWG grant program. However, workforce locations consistently list this as one of the most difficult aspects of workforce development. This section aims to:

  1. present some basic knowledge and practices that have worked in other work-based learning programs in the past, and
  2. give an alternative way to think about work-based learning that will make the concept easier to pitch to employers, while getting job seekers more experience in the process.

4 Ps of Internships

Work-Based Learning Questionnaire

In July of 2015, DCEO sent out a questionnaire to participating IT JD NEG/DWG locations about their work-based learning methods. There were a variety of questions about how participating locations are going about finding and capturing companies to get their job seekers into work-based learning opportunities. Here are the most important takeaways from that questionnaire (for further details, please view the August 12th 2015 “Thinking Beyond the Traditional Work-Based Learning Model” webinar here):

  1. Locations with a dedicated job developer or employer liaison have the best success with gaining and maintaining strong employer contacts. This role is the sole contact with employers, and should have strong communication skills. There are usually measurements or quotas tied with the role, such as having 10 cold calls per day to employers.
  2. The most common ways to find employers were to use current employer partners, attend job fairs, contact the Chamber of Commerce, use staffing agencies, and use IDES/Illinois JobLink. Cold calling wasn’t commonly used, but has proven effective at locations with strong job developers. Searching for companies on sites like LinkedIn, Craigslist, and Indeed was also not commonly used, but these sites provide a terrific wealth of information for job developers looking to gain strong connections.
  3. When signing a work-based learning agreement with an employer, it’s important to clearly state the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that the candidate is expected to do. In the case of the IT JD NEG/DWG grant, these activities should be IT-related goals. This is to avoid situations where the work-based learning candidate is relegated to being a coffee runner.
  4. At all surveyed workforce locations, work-based learning candidates were selected based on their soft skills, their work experience, or a combination of both. Some locations had mandatory soft skills training to ensure their candidates were fit for a professional environment. Locations that relied heavily on work experience still conducted phone screenings to make sure candidates had acceptable communication skills.

The 4 Ps of Work-Based Learning

It has been proven that internships and work based learning opportunities provide a level of experience that employers want. Workforce centers and training programs have stressed that presenting a Traditional Internship Model, where the employer provides all components of the internship, is a hard sell. In turn, the job seekers and employers are missing out on work experience connections that would solidify skills for the worker and enhance profitability for the employer, a win for both sides. Internships are an essential piece of the training and employment deliverables for workforce centers, so a new way of presenting internships and work based learning opportunities to employers could open new doors. The emphasis of this new way of thinking revolves around community engagement to build strong relationships that will enhance the workforce in any local area. This is the idea behind the 4P’s of Internships Model.

To better understand the 4P’s of Internships Model, it is important to define the 4P’s individually. Please use the accompanying color graphic titled Thinking Beyond the Traditional Internship Model as a guide while the components and ways these models can be used is described below.

  • Project is the most important component of an internship. The project is what delivers the enhancement of skills for the job seeker and fills the need of the employer. The project component can be singular in nature or combine a number of smaller projects to fulfill a timeframe for the intern. Projects can also be presented by just one employer, or a group of smaller businesses to provide more experience and/or variety to the intern.
  • Place stands for the physical location an intern will be reporting to during their time within the internship. This place doesn’t necessarily have to be at the project provider’s site, as long as it provides the equipment and leadership needed to complete the project. A workforce center or community organization could provide a place for an intern to work, which will be explained further below.
  • Personnel refers to the leader or mentor who will oversee the project. The supervising personnel generally have similar skills to the project being completed in order to provide guidance as needed to the intern. They also ensure company policy is followed during the internship. In the example below, you will see how remote personnel and an onsite internship manager work together to oversee their intern and assist with project completion.
  • Payment covers the monetary compensation for the hours and work the intern has provided. This payment can come directly from the project provider, a community organization, federal/state grants like WIOA or a combination of funding sources.

Model 1 - Traditional Model

The general approach to internships and work based learning requires that Company A has a project that they need help with, they have the place to host a worker or workers required to complete that project, personnel to oversee the worker/s and the means to pay for their time and effort. For Company A, putting all of these components together and keeping track of them throughout the duration of the internship takes a lot of time and energy. This company, and many others, may be hesitant to take on the role of providing work based learning in their community because they can’t see the benefits. With all that required effort, they may find it easier to just hire a full time employee, or neglect their need for additional workers longer than necessary. Using the 4P’s model, employers will be able to see how simple it is to participate in an internship program and the benefits that would result for both the worker and the company.

Throughout the remaining models, you will see where missing components could have stopped the partnership, however a slight change to the Traditional Model creates a simple solution that allows the internship to work well for both the employer and the intern.

Model 3 - Partner Model

Company A acts as a sponsor and works together with one of their corporate partners to provide all four components of the model. Each specific part can be handled either by Company A or their partner in any combination as needed for that specific internship. In the model shown on the graphic, Company A provides the place and the partner provides the personnel. The project and the payment components can be taken care of by either Company A or the partner. For this model to work effectively, the terms of the internship need to be worked out so everyone understands their role and provides the proper components accordingly. This is a model that can be manipulated as needed, and could also incorporate multiple partners to cover individual components. 

Model 2 - Shared Managed Model

Company A can provide the project, place and payment but is unable to provide the personnel at the location where the internship will be taking place. Company A could reach out to their other office location, a partner company or direct consultant and see if they could provide a virtual project supervisor. This person would be in communication via email, phone and other virtual methods in order to deliver goals, track progress, answer questions and provide support. The out of area partner agrees to provide this virtual supervisor, while the local office of Company A provides a local internship manager who can assist with daily administrative and general location needs of the intern. Normally, the lack of the personnel would have ended the partnership that Company A wanted to participate in, but the ability to reach out of their local office for personnel assistance helped to provide all necessary components to allow the internship to happen.

Model 4 - Consultant Model

Multiple employers and community organizations come together to support an internship. In this scenario, small businesses may struggle to have enough work to provide the necessary experience to an intern, however the company could really benefit from the assistance the intern could provide their project. In order to provide a beneficial internship, the small businesses can combine their work needs together through one entity such as a community based organization like the Chamber of Commerce. The students would be consultants to each individual company. Each company could choose to not only provide the project, but might also contribute one of the other three components. The community organization would then fill any remaining components. In the example from the graphic, a number of small businesses would pool together projects, the community organization would provide the place for them to work and the personnel to oversee the work. The employers and the community organizations could contribute to the payment for the internship, which is where grant funding may be considered as a form of payment if the internship meets the necessary guidelines.

The idea is that the traditional model can be reshaped in many ways to make the internship/work based learning opportunity work as long as an employer is willing to participate. But the real beauty of the 4Ps Model is that it goes beyond the employer as the only stakeholder and allows participation from multiple organizations to achieve the goal of strengthening the local workforce and in turn strengthening the local economy. These models help provide a pathway for a company to do their part in building their corporate social responsibility while testing out possible future employees that could strengthen their business. For real life examples of these models watch the webinar below or view it on YouTube.