How Work-based Learning Makes Better Job Candidates

Posted on July 19, 2021
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How Work-based Learning Makes Better Job Candidates

By Lonnie Emard, Apprenticeship Director at ACDS

Arkansas Center for Data Sciences is in the business of developing tech talent and matching it to the job requirements of Arkansas employers. We work with people who’ve finished four years of college, two years of college, and no years of college. But no matter who we’re presenting to employers, the one thing those employers say when they’re comparing potential employees side by side is, “Do any of them have relevant work experience?”

Say we’re presenting two candidates, Kim and Kelly. We’ve put them both through our ACDS assessment, and they both show IT aptitude. Both have completed the same number of self-study hours. Yet Kim spent his summers working retail, while Kelly landed an internship working for an IT company. While Kelly might not have done much sophisticated hands-on tech work for the employer, it was beneficial to be in the room when projects were discussed and analyzed. Kelly will likely get the nod.

While ACDS is clearly paving the way for new entrants into the profession of IT, employers are always going to value some type of work exposure in addition to the completion of technical coursework. In that spirit, ACDS is ramping up a program of what’s nationally known as “work-based learning.” In our environment here in Arkansas, we’ve uncovered numerous opportunities to provide technology solutions to small businesses and nonprofits that are presently doing everything manually and can’t afford to hire technical talent on their staff full time—nor do they have the budget to pay a service provider to produce what they need.

We feel strongly that work-based learning can become the opportunity to solve two issues at once. Key to our plan is securing the involvement of seasoned tech professionals who’re willing to give back through mentoring to make this work. They’ll be the linchpin between the candidates who need actual work experience and the small business or nonprofit that needs tech work. The mentor will give the tech assignments to candidates from our ACDS database and will oversee their work. The business will get what it needs, and the candidates will be paid to deliver on whatever task is required, be it acting as project manager, business analyst, developer, designer, tester, network administrator, Cloud analyst, or even database administrator. This will give the candidates actual experience on a live project team, allowing them to understand how everything fits together from scope to implementation. 

Acknowledging there are costs to developing that environment, ACDS and the Office of Skills Development (OSD), which supports this effort, are willing to make that investment. However, a second option for work-based learning is also possible. In a partnership ecosystem, it’s possible that many of the businesses that ACDS and OSD support—including most small IT shops—would be willing to take on some of our ReSkill Arkansas candidates, knowing that we’re still paying them as part of our reskilling effort. We plan to draw from the first 10 to 15 ReSkill candidates who’ve finished enough classroom assignments that they’re ready for what’s next, but they’re not quite “employable” yet. These candidates will take on a work-based learning assignment with a small company for three months.

From this point, two things could happen. During that three-month period, that company supervisor might extend a fulltime job offer. Before, the company didn’t have the budget to do that, but they just got three months’ worth of free work done and now they need to support the project that they just completed for a customer. And guess what—now the revenue is coming in to support them. 

That’s one great outcome. The other outcome is that the candidates get good exposure and finish that assignment, and now they have something on their resumé stating they did a real project. Now our ACDS Talent Acquisition team can put that candidate in front of one of the larger employers and comfortably say this is a competitive candidate.

Thanks so much to our Arkansas Center for Data Sciences for providing guest commentary, and for their workforce development efforts in Arkansas!

For more on Reskill Arkansas, check out ACDS’s panel discussion on the program right here!