Ready for work and beyond: a study of the impact of work-based experiences on secondary students

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Stanley Winborne IV (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Craig Peck

Abstract: Drawing on the traditions of oral history and general interpretivist qualitative research, this study sought to understand how current work-based education experiences inform contemporary students’ attitudes about and success in high school. First, I collected data about the history of work-based learning in North Carolina from experts and professionals in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) field using oral history methods. In addition, I used general interpretivist qualitative research methods in seeking answers about how today’s students experience CTE, how those experiences impact students’ attitudes about post-secondary plans, and how these results varied based on the race, ethnicity, and gender of the participants. Data for the study of contemporary students were drawn from interviews, focus groups, and workplace observations of twenty public high school students participating in a form of formal work-based learning called Career and Technical Education (CTE) Internships. I analyzed the data by applying a priori codes (developed from a theoretical framework guiding this study) and open codes in order to identify emergent themes. The results of the oral history research showed that work-based learning programs have continued to evolve over time, but that trends in the 1990s and early 2000s show movement away from proven programs. More recent efforts advocate a return to formal work-based learning structures (such as internships and apprenticeships) that provide more opportunity for secondary student participation. The results of research with current student participants showed that they felt the CTE Internship generally impacted their high school experiences in a positive way. They stated it was productive, contributed to a sense of empowerment, prepared them for real world experiences, helped develop unique relationships, and allowed them to develop a sense of responsibility. Contrastingly, a few participants expressed reservations about the value of the experience, and addressed the difficulties of balancing the demands of work and academics. Also, some students identified negative pressures and expectations associated with gender and race while participating in the internships. The positive trends reported by the participants were consistent with the perspectives of those who were interviewed for the oral history of work-based education in our state. This study has practical implications for the design of work-based learning in the public school district in which the study was conducted. While most of the participants praised the CTE Internship as a positive one, there were some who did not feel this way. In fact, there were two who openly expressed the sentiment that the experience was simply an easy way to earn a high grade and boost their grade point average. Four others cited negative experiences related to gender inequality and racism while participating in the program. These results indicate that several important structures need to be considered when administering this program: (a) Student participation must be voluntary. The CTE Internship should remain an elective offering to students and not be tied to any requirements for the completion of high school. It should also not be used as a requirement to incentivize or exclude participation in any academic tracks or pathways of studies; (b) Faculty advisors should carefully and regularly monitor students while they participate in the program. Faculty members should be particularly aware of students’ vulnerabilities related to race, ethnicity and gender in the work-place setting; and (c) Program administrators should carefully monitor all aspects of the program, specifically the supervisory roles of faculty and work place supervisors, in order to maintain program integrity and to promote positive outcomes. Future research into work-based education should explore how these same questions apply to other models of work-based learning, including comparisons to shorter-term experiences like job-shadowing, and longer-term experiences like apprenticeships. Additional consideration should be given to how the socio-economic status of students factor into participation and outcomes in these same experiences.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Career, CTE, Education, Internships, Technical, Work-based
Career education $z North Carolina
Technical education $z North Carolina
Education, Secondary $x Curricula $z North Carolina
Internship programs

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