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ASU+GSV 2023: Industries Need Virtual Training, Internships

Addressing the ASU+GSV Summit on Wednesday, business leaders made a case for private-public partnerships to aid the development of online workforce training programs, internships and work-based learning.

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With workplaces becoming increasingly tech-integrated, the need to train and retrain students and workers for an ever-changing job market has been a top concern for K-12 schools, universities, workforce training programs and employers across industries, according to a Wednesday panel during the annual ASU-GSV conference.

Panelists in a session titled “Virtual Internships: Scaling Access to Real-World Learning” said online workforce training programs and internships could play a key role in building the talent pipeline across industries where the nature of work itself has changed, and will continue to change. The panel featured JFF Ventures Managing Partner Sabari Raja, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation VP Jason Tyszko, Work-Based Learning Alliance Executive Director Prue Clifford and Work Simplr CEO Jodi McPherson, who each shared their insights and approaches to promoting work-based learning in a job market where change may be the only constant.

Noting the advent of remote work in particular, McPherson said her company has tried in recent months to expand access to paid telework job training for secondary and postsecondary students. She added that the program tips students off about potential job opportunities in the “gig economy,” where remote work is likely to remain in place after the pandemic.

“We just thought there was a real opportunity to tap into the ‘gig economy’ and let students [gain] real skills,” she said. “They don’t need a resume, they just need to sign up and they spend 10 minutes with us. What we do in those 10 minutes is we seek to build their confidence and start to unpack their skills. The type of work that they do is work they’re doing already in schools, so what we’re trying to do is nurture them to get them started on a path and believe they can do it.”

A big part of building that confidence is exposing students in work-based learning programs to career choices they might not know about, according to Raja.

“If kids don’t know what’s out there, you can’t be what you can’t see,” she added.

But when it comes to the need to connect students with relevant job training and expose them to career choices through virtual training or otherwise, Tyszko said public-private partnerships will be necessary in order to coordinate with industry leaders about what skills they need from applicants.

He said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which represents over 1,500 local and state chambers of commerce, has been trying to expand its workforce training portfolio for a new era. He said new initiatives aim to encourage business associations to “routinely produce standardized, project-based learning experiences” and make career learning programs available to secondary students, postsecondary students and communities in general.

“The goal of this effort is to scale high-quality, employer-led, project-based learning. We’re not trying to re-create the wheel, but what we want to create is a shared infrastructure where we can go out and essentially credit business associations to become ‘challenge clearninghouses,’” he said. “We think this is an effort worth trying, and we’re going to learn a lot along the way.”

According to Clifford, a key starting place to help catalyze such partnerships is networking with state governments.

Clifford said the Work-Based Learning Alliance recently emerged out of an ed-tech company called Practera, which focuses on developing experiential education. When Practera brought its platform to the U.S. about three years ago at the height of the pandemic, Clifford said she became aware of the urgent need to scale work-based learning in U.S. high schools.

“For us, we very much see high school work-based learning as that intentional on-ramp or starting point to develop the workforce of tomorrow,” she said. “When we sat back and looked at who we can partner with to really drive these experiences at scale and to drive access, equity and a sustainable model, states became a natural point to turn to in terms of partnerships. States, regardless of whether they’re red or blue, have a commitment to youth and education, and on the other hand, they have a commitment to the economy across their state and being able to drive economic mobility across their state.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.