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Work-Based Learning in Agricultural Education as a Career Development Strategy

This post was written by Matthew Kreifels and submitted by the InnovATE project.

The following blog is part of a series intended to share experiences of U.S. agricultural educators with a global audience. For more information about the Ag Educators Corner blog series on Agrilinks, please visit: https://agrilinks.org/blog/agricultural-educators-agricultural-educators.

Work-based learning (WBL) is the practice of exposing students to a real or simulated work environment with the intention of applying technical knowledge and skills learned in the classroom within a real-world setting. The goal of WBL is career preparation for the student; giving them the ability to put technical knowledge and skills into practice while also developing Career Ready Practices (sometimes referred to as “soft” or “employment” skills) necessary to be successful in the workplace.

Three Phases of Career Development

Career development is a three-phase experience for students at the secondary level. Naturally, the end goal is that students know what career/occupation they wish to pursue and have begun to develop the technical knowledge and skills to be successful in that career. Before students can get to this point, however, they should progress through awareness, exploration and preparation phases.

Before students can begin to explore specific careers, they should develop a sense of awareness about the general career fields available to them by participating in awareness activities. For example, students may participate in coursework thay exposes them to multiple career fields and pathways while also engaging in awareness WBL activities like career fairs, research projects, guest speakers and more. 

Next, students should explore the opportunities within a specific career field by engaging in activities that expose them to career opportunities in that discipline area. In addition to career field-specific coursework, students engage in WBL activities at the exploration level that include deeper experiences, such as field trips, job shadowing, short-term work experiences and career mentoring.

Finally, students must choose a career path or field, and develop knowledge and skills necessary for that specific career. For example, once students begin to take capstone-level coursework within a specific career pathway, they have taken the opportunity to drill down into the content and have a better perspective about what the reality of the careers are within the real word. Additionally, students engage in WBL opportunities that include real work experience, such as internships, starting a personal business, managing a school-based business and participating in pre-apprenticeship programs.

How is Work-Based Learning Implemented?

In many cases, WBL is coordinated by a teacher at the secondary level who has the responsibility of helping students engage in career awareness and exploration activities connected to the coursework. The teacher often acts as a connector to pair students with a suitable employer that matches their career interests. Other times students may already have a job outside of school, whether at a local business or at home. In each scenario, the goal is the same — the application of technical knowledge and skills that can be related and applied in the career pathway of interest for a student. Earnings and wages are incidental to learning in a properly structured WBL environment.

In addition to the technical knowledge and skills, students must master Career Ready Practices. The Advance CTE organization has developed a list of 12 Career Ready Practices, all of which are best practiced in a WBL environment. Trained teachers, parents and supportive employers can work with students to emphasize these practices in addition to the job-specific work that is accomplished. The Career Ready Practices may also be used in the formative and summative evaluations with the student, both on the jobsite and as part of a classroom grade. Read more about the Career Ready Practices at: https://careertech.org/career-ready-practices

Matthew Kreifels is state director of agricultural education for the Nebraska Department of Education and an associate professor of practice in the department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He teaches courses in leadership and field experiences and works with student teachers and beginning agriscience teachers. As state director of agricultural education, he co-coordinates professional development for current Nebraska agricultural education teachers, directs statewide curriculum efforts, assists in creating new secondary agricultural education programs and coordinates the Nebraska Career Development Events.

This blog series on Agricultural Education is curated by the PSU Global Teach Ag! Initiative and the Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) project. To learn more, visit: http://aese.psu.edu/teachag/global. Questions or ideas to collaborate? Email teachag@psu.edu.