On Work-Based Learning: An Interview with Work-Based Learning Program Supervisor, Carol Ballard

From resource shortages to high unemployment rates, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a myriad of adversities to the state of Mississippi.

Now more than ever, communities need ways to train and prepare their youth for the workforce, which is why work-based learning and apprenticeship programs are essential to improving and developing the state’s economy.

Organizations like the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) and the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP) help provide resources and support for Work-Based Learning (WBL). Carol Ballard, Work-Based Learning (WBL) Program Supervisor at MDE, explains what work-based learning is and how it influences economic development.

When asked to define work-based learning, Ballard references MDE’s 2020 Work-Based Operation Guide, which quotes the Perkins V Act’s definition of the term.

“Work-based learning,” Ballard says, “consists of sustained interactions with industry or community professionals in real workplace settings to the extent practicable or simulated environments at an educational institution. These interactions foster in-depth, first-hand engagement with the tasks required of a given career field, that are aligned to curriculum and instruction.”

According to MDE’s Resource Guide, work-based learning exists on a continuum, beginning in elementary schools, ranging from career awareness to career experience. The program includes activities, from career fairs and classroom guest speakers to internships and workplace simulations. Apprenticeship programs also qualify as work-based learning and fall in the career experience end of the spectrum. For this reason, MDE is working to increase the number of apprenticeships and internships across the state.

“We have partnered with several agencies, including, but not limited to, the US- Department of Labor(US-DOL) and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) districts, to provide students with the pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, and internships they need for on-the-job training,” Ballard says. “We are working to increase the number of authentic work experiences throughout the state and are confident the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program can help provide continued partnerships with businesses and industries.”

Work-based learning programs and apprenticeship programs help positively influence economic development by creating an educated workforce, allowing businesses to develop meaningful relationships with the WBL students, increasing job retention, and improving employment. These programs provide essential on-the-job education to students.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way businesses and industries provide work-based learning.

“Some work-based learning experiences have been affected due to business closures and limitations,” says Ballard. “While other work-based learning opportunities have been creative and have allowed students to work remotely, some learning experiences were not affected at all. A major focus at MDE is ensuring that every student enrolled in a work-based learning course receives the same quality experience, and we have worked hard to maintain this quality even in remote learning.”

MDE provides supportive resources for businesses interested in establishing work-based learning programs amidst the pandemic. These resources include connecting businesses with work-based learning coordinators, supplying employability training, and providing virtual work-based learning programs.

For businesses that have experienced budget cuts due to the pandemic, work-based learning and apprenticeship programs have helped them maintain productivity while also allowing students to gain essential work experience. For students and people looking for a career change, work-based learning is helping to build valuable relationships between students and the businesses they are apprenticing.

Whether for career awareness or career experience, work-based learning initiatives, including registered apprenticeship programs, are essential to job growth and security throughout the state.

“Work-based learning,” Ballard says, “is building a stronger workforce for tomorrow.”