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Work Experience Options for High School Students

< Career Exploration

Work Experience Options for High School Students

Why should my child have high school work experience?
There are many advantages to high school work experience (also called work-based learning).
  • Work-based learning helps your child relate schoolwork to a future career.

  • It can provide your child with the skills, attitudes and habits required to be successful on the job. These include:

    • Time management and meeting deadlines;
    • Following directions;
    • Problem-solving; and
    • Interpersonal communication;
    • Leadership and working on a team.

  • It can help students make informed choices about their future. Your child will have a better idea of what type of education or training to undertake after high school if he or she has tried out career options while still in high school.
For your child's high school work experience to be meaningful and valuable, it should:
  • Relate to your child's interests;

  • Help your child see what working life is like;

  • Help your child discover his or her likes and dislikes;

  • Help your child find his or her strengths and weaknesses; and

  • Help your child connect schoolwork with future employment.
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What are the options?
High school work-based learning can include career exploration and awareness activities, work experience, structured training, or building a relationship with a mentor at a worksite. Some common options include:
  • Job Shadowing. With job shadowing, your child observes a worker on the job in a field of interest to him or her. A job shadow can last from part of a day to several days. It is unpaid. Job shadowing increases career awareness, sets a positive example for students, and reinforces the link between classroom learning and work.

  • Mentoring. Mentoring is a long-term relationship between your child and an adult with similar career interests. The adult mentor offers support, guidance, motivation and assistance as your child explores careers. Be sure your child's school requires background checks on adults who wish to act as mentors.

  • Service-Learning. Service-learning combines academics with a community service project. For example, while cleaning trash from a stream, students will also analyze the trash and where it comes from, then create ways to educate the community on reducing pollution. Students would learn about water quality and laboratory analysis, pollution issues, and communicating with the public. Students might also be asked to reflect on how the service-learning project relates to their personal and career interests.  Service learning is generally unpaid.

  • School-Based Enterprises. These are small businesses operated at the school. Junior Achievement often sets up school-based enterprises that allow students to learn business operations such as managing costs, ordering supplies, working under pressure, conserving supplies and maintaining facilities. Your child's school may also allow students to operate the student store, or to organize a fundraiser. School-based enterprises are generally unpaid work experiences.

  • High School Internships. Internships are structured work activities that complement classroom learning. Your child may earn academic credit for participating in an internship. Internships usually run from two to eight weeks, although some internships are available over the summer. There are both paid and non-paid internships.

  • Cooperative Education. In cooperative education, employers, the school, the student and the student's parents develop a work plan under which the student will acquire the skills needed to eventually get a job in the student's chosen field. The student receives school credit for both work-related classroom instruction and his or her actual work experience.

    Most cooperative education programs are provided through the career and technical education program at your child's high school. Many cooperative education programs include paid work experience.

  • Youth Apprenticeship Youth apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. An apprenticeship lasts from two to five years, with the first few years taking place while the student is in high school, and the rest while the student is enrolled in postsecondary education or training. The student is paid for the on-the-job training portion of the apprenticeship.

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Are there work-related classes or clubs at school?
Many high schools offer classes, clubs and student associations that focus on future careers. Through these groups, students are exposed to business ideas and interact with business professionals via courses, conferences, networking and tours. They also gain skills in leadership, communication, teamwork and socialization. Some clubs and associations offer competitions, prizes, scholarships and internships.

Your school may support:
  • Junior Achievement (JA). JA exposes students to the concepts of economics and free enterprise through hands-on experiences. The organization sponsors school-based enterprises; develops courses and programs on economics, personal finance, and workplace skills; and guides students through a web-based business simulation; among other activities.

  • Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). An "education association of students preparing for careers in business and business-related fields."

  • Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA). DECA provides education and opportunities for "students with interests in marketing, management and entrepreneurship."

  • Future Farmers of America (FFA). FFA "prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resources systems."

  • Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA). "FCCLA is a National Career and Technical Student Organization for young men and women in family and consumer sciences education..."

For complete information on school-based opportunities for student career and work experience, ask the school counselor.

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What other ways can my child be exposed to careers?
Your child's school might sponsor other activities that relate to careers and work. For example:

  • Career Fairs. At career fairs, representatives from various businesses provide information about their jobs at booths set up in a single location (such as the school gym).

  • Guest Speakers. You child's teacher, counselor or career specialist may arrange for guest speakers to come and talk to a group of students. Have your child watch for these opportunities at his or her school.

  • Field Trips. Some schools offer field trips to local businesses, where students are taken on a tour of the business and get to see workers at their daily tasks. Students learn how the business works, and about the types of skills needed to work there.

For more information:
  • National Mentoring Center
  • Job
  • National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

  • Internships (My
  • Work Experience Education (California Department of Education)
  • Cooperative Education as a Strategy for School-to-Work Transition (National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1994)
  • Course Selection Guide, Cooperative Education (Deering High School, Portland, Oregon, Undated)
  • Job
  • Job Shadowing Definition (NCREL, Undated)
  • Service-Learning Is... (National Service Learning Clearinghouse, Undated)
  • School-to-Work Activities--High School (Cedar Rapids Community School, Undated)
  • Structured Work Experience Definition (NCREL, Undated)
  • Work-based Learning Manual (Utah Office of Education, 2002)
  • Work Experience Page (Whitby High School, Undated)