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Practical Internships Build Skills

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Work experience allows young adults to learn key skills and explore industries that may be of interest to them, whether in the biosciences or elsewhere. Participating in internships and apprenticeships are an excellent way to gain this experience and to provide a great opportunity for young people to see how the content they have learned in school is used in industry. In one model, Germany's students commonly participate in internships and apprenticeships during their secondary school years through a program called “Dual Training.” Students spend roughly half of their time taking traditional classes and the remaining half learning work-based skills and knowledge outside of the classroom. Upon graduation, students have the skills and credentials to enter the workforce or to pursue further specialized training, if they choose. 

Other countries encourage students to participate in internships, but incorporating on-the-job learning into education can provide challenges. For example, combining work experience with classes during the academic year can prove difficult to plan and schedule, so students are often expected to fulfill any internship obligations outside of school hours. If internships are unpaid, this can be problematic for young people who need to earn wages. In addition, internships may also come with additional “hidden” costs, such as requiring access to reliable transportation or the purchase of work-appropriate clothing. These barriers to entry can exclude many students, particularly students of color, who could benefit from such opportunities. Failing to take these realities into account has created a system that continues to provide opportunities to only those who can afford to pay for access to them.

However, there are strategies that can mitigate these challenges. Companies can sometimes fund or reduce the costs of an internship. In some cases, schools or districts change the school schedule to support dedicated days and times for students to explore careers and work with companies, allowing internships to take place during school hours. Another model provides opportunities for virtual internships, which provide applied experience without requiring on-site attendance. And some ABE sites are providing work-based learning opportunities that give students experiences engaging in the preparation and quality control of materials while not being time-intensive. The ABE Metro Washington DC Area and ABE Greater Los Angeles Area program sites engage students in hands-on reagent preparation to give them resumé-building skills outside of industry. At ABE The Netherlands, students practice forensic investigation using real-world materials and techniques. In the absence of internship opportunities, sites can strive to create authentic simulations connected to real problems that allow students to document and demonstrate practical skills.

Does your school partner with local businesses or industries? What supports (if any) do students receive to apply to and participate in internships? How are internships and dual enrollment influencing post-secondary choices for students in your area? Tweet your answers to @ABEProgOffice.

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