When Sarah Ashmore, interim director of Oklahoma’s Office of Workforce Development, said “Thank you for attending Oklahoma's first External LinkWork-Based Learning Summit,” she was right to stress “first” in her closing of the statewide event.

The energy and promise of the day—which ended with grants to local companies—may have bolstered the likelihood that other events will follow.

Nearly 300 individuals representing employers, workforce professionals and educators attended the June 17 summit in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City was one of the sponsors.

Both employers and employees benefit

Participants were drawn to the summit by an interest in work-based learning strategies, such as apprenticeships and internships, which offer a wage as well as a chance to learn valuable professional skills.

Work-based learning strategies are a benefit to both employers and employees. Employers can use the strategies to develop their ideal workforce, train for specific skills and create leadership and loyalty among their workers. In addition to a earning a wage, employees learn skills within the context of their job and benefit from ongoing supervision and mentorship.

Strategy responds to demand for skilled workers

The summit expanded awareness of work-based strategies and provided tools to put them to work. The opening sessions outlined the importance of these strategies to Oklahoma's economy, given current and projected demand for skilled workers.

Mickey Dollens, who represents Oklahoma City in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, provided insight on how public policies at the state level could provide a supportive environment. Rachel Hirsch, state network manager for the National Skills Council, followed with a national perspective on policy developments.

Summit provides targeted how-to info to sectors

Sector-specific breakout sessions explored how these strategies could be implemented to meet the needs in manufacturing, IT and finance, health care and construction trades. Each session included employers and partners that had experience with successful programs both in Oklahoma and other regions.

One example: Work-based learning for IT/finance sector

The IT/finance breakout session, for example, included a youth apprenticeship program for high school youth, an apprenticeship program in the insurance industry for adults with significant barriers to employment and an internship program for college students in the banking sector.

They all shared several themes:

  1. Outreach is critical to maintaining a steady pipeline of participants.
  2. Supervision and mentorship is required to hold individuals accountable and to be responsive to their needs.
  3. Comprehensive onboarding helps participants understand the culture and learn how to adjust to norms.
  4. Internships, as well as apprenticeships, should be paid positions to allow the participants to focus on them and to signal their importance.
  5. The programs should provide participants real opportunities to make contributions, take risks and show innovation in their positions.

Tools help employers deploy work-based learning

Apprenticeships and internships do take commitment and resources to implement. Oklahoma offers some useful tools. Oklahoma has developed the “Employer Guide to Work-Based Learning,” which provides step-by-step guidance on the process and echoes many of the components identified in the panel sessions. Oklahoma's regional support staff also offers employers hands-on technical assistance.

Oklahoma incentive grants provide $95,000 to seven companies

At the close of the summit, the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development awarded incentive grants totaling $95,000 to seven companies. The awards went to industry-led partnerships to develop new apprenticeship programs. The range of industries supported—shift supervisors in a retail store, licensed practical nurses in a rural hospital, welders for a rural manufacturer, a youth pre-apprenticeship program in a long-term care facility—demonstrate the flexibility and impact that work-based learning can have.

Work-based learning in Oklahoma ready to expand following summit

Oklahoma intends to increase the number of registered apprenticeships and internships in the state to 20,000 by 2020. The state also is participating in several national initiatives that will continue to bring new ideas and resources to the state.

The External LinkNational Skills Coalition is supporting this effort through its National Work-Based Learning Academy, which includes a broad-based team from Oklahoma. The state also recently joined the PAYA Network, a national learning community led by New America's External LinkPartnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA). Both of these opportunities will allow Oklahoma to learn, with help from national leaders, new ways to advance this field.