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Shared resource brings new opportunities for career discovery

Date: Tuesday, October 4, 2022
A work-based learning coordinator can bring hands-on, career exploration events to students.

For four eastern Iowa school districts, career exploration just got easier. A new shared coordinator focused solely on work-based learning experiences is now onboard, traveling to middle and high schools to help connect students to hands-on learning and career pathway discovery.

Through Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, Christina Anderson fills the newly created role as the shared work-based learning coordinator for Durant, West Liberty, Columbus Junction and Louisa-Muscatine schools. She splits her time evenly and is on each campus weekly, which allows her to make meaningful connections with students looking to explore potential career interests and develop job skills. And although she is a fresh face in these school districts this year, she is ready to dive in with work-based learning.

“I’m very excited and extremely motivated to get started in this new role as a shared work-based learning coordinator,” she said. “I’m eager to connect middle and high school students with local businesses to provide hands-on, real-world experience and inspire academic and career success.”

A recent EICC work-based learning event featured different trucking activities.

Work-based learning coordinators provide much support to schools looking to provide personalized guidance to students who are exploring different career fields. They work closely with school counselors and college and career transition counselors in assessing a student’s interests, skills and career dreams in order to match them with individualized hands-on opportunities, such as job shadows, internships and worksite visits.

“Not too long ago, this type of work fell to school counselors,” said Erica Ewert, intermediary coordinator for Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. “By having a work-based learning coordinator to focus strictly on career exploration, students have more opportunities for quality experiences to help understand what careers are out there and how their skills align.”

Traditionally, a work-based learning coordinator provides services to only one school district, but in the case of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges and these four districts, more attention to work-based learning was needed. Prior to the creation of the new position, work-based learning services were provided by Ewert, the intermediary coordinator. Intermediaries provide career exploration opportunities for students, similar to work-based learning coordinators. However, Ewert has a large service area of 21 school districts and saw the benefits of having additional personnel who can build close relationships with students and staff by having a stronger, more regular presence onsite at each of the schools.

“We want to ensure there are no gaps in the career exploration process,” Ewert said. “By being there regularly, Christina will be able to build relationships with students and staff.”

Anderson will have plenty of support as she moves forward in her role as the shared coordinator. Since Ewert and Anderson are both employed by Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, they can share best practices, business connections and other resources. Ewert has also included Anderson in the Iowa Intermediary Network, which helps connect intermediary coordinators statewide. The network shares resources with other members and can connect students, educators and businesses with work-based learning information and experiences. 

Work-based learning provides opportunities for students to meet professionals from business and industry.

“It makes sense for Christina to be connected to the Iowa Intermediary Network,” said Kristy Volesky, work-based learning consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. ‘It helps ensure that resources and common best practices are being shared and that high-quality work-based learning experiences are being provided statewide.”

Although Anderson and Ewert share similar job duties, they are different positions and funded uniquely. As the intermediary, Ewert will be supervising and providing training and guidance to Anderson. Her position is funded through monies designated for those intermediary coordinators. Anderson’s role as the work-based learning coordinator uses a more innovative approach in both funding and structure.

“This is a partnership coming from five entities – Eastern Iowa Community Colleges and the four school districts,” said Tishly Herrington, associate director of postsecondary transition at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges. “We have used operational funding for the shared coordinator position, which is a new thing to do. With work-based learning being a priority for Iowa, having a shared coordinator split her time between these four school districts has great potential.”

Operational function sharing is funded through the Iowa Department of Education and can be used to support a work-based learning coordinator’s duties and training. Guidance for using operational sharing for work-based learning coordinators was released earlier this year and details how this funding can help school districts provide more enriched work-based learning experiences through a coordinator.

Through work-based learning, students can explore in-demand careers like truck driving.

Anderson will have many opportunities to provide work-based learning experiences for students this year, and she will also be able to partner with Ewert for large-scale events. One recent event in September that focused on truck driving and logistics careers found Anderson and Ewert working together to provide hands-on opportunities.

“It was exciting to provide this work-based learning event,” Ewert said. “We worked with the Iowa Motor Truck Association to showcase different types of trucks that students could see, touch and experience first-hand.”

At the event, demonstrations on a semi-truck simulator, ambulance, city truck, dump truck and other equipment were provided. Students were also able to meet and network with professionals in transportation, logistics, warehouse distribution, aviation and other fields to gain further insight into these in-demand careers.

Work-based learning experiences like these can help students find a clearer pathway to a potential career. And as the new shared work-based learning coordinator, Anderson understands what an important role she will play in these students’ lives.

“This new position will help the students in my four schools prepare for life after graduation,” she said. “Through career exploration, engagement, exposure and experience, students will have the skills and knowledge to help them connect coursework to future postsecondary and career plans.”

For more information on the responsibilities of a work-based learning coordinator and upcoming training opportunities, contact Kristy Volesky, education program consultant for work-based learning, at kristy.volesky@iowa.gov.