The coronavirus pandemic is reshaping how learning is delivered across the world on a daily basis. As school buildings and in-person gatherings remain limited, many parents, educators and employers worry about our young people having enough quality learning opportunities. How are they faring during this time when job preparation options like work-based learning, apprenticeships, internships and on-the-job training are sparse?
The good news is this: virtual learning programs are being introduced by cities, mayor’s offices, large employers and other community-based organizations who are passionate about helping youth in their area learn new skills. For example, here in Michigan we have the Grow Detroit’s Young Talent initiative, hosted by the City of Detroit and Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC). With the help of community funding, business partnerships and employer support, the summer program was able to pivot from in-person learning to offer a customized virtual curriculum to 200 Detroit youth between ages 17-24. Training youth to fill jobs in the community is also a huge benefit for employers looking to source young talent.
In this article, you will hear from Will Owen, EDSI’s Director of Innovation, about the digital solutions used to build a successful online learning experience for youth along with best practices for implementing virtual programming.
Q: How did EDSI become a partner with GDYT?
A: EDSI was invited to be a partner in the program because of the company’s track record with providing quality training and education. The City reached out to us once it was known that in-person learning would need to transition to a digitized learning experience.
This was a natural collaboration with the City and local employers, as we also run several fast-track boot camp training programs in manufacturing and healthcare that aim to help Detroit residents earn a certification and secure employment. Read more on our boot camps here.
Q: Can you give us a snapshot of what the curriculum looks like? What are best practices in designing virtual curriculum for youth?
A: The 6-week curriculum runs 4 days per week for 5 hours per day, including 1 hour of live instruction often with an employer partner and 4 hours of blended individual/team/capstone work. The live workshop is taught by an instructor or business professional and could include a guest speaker, meet & greet with an employer, or a panel conversation with 3 or 4 employers to give youth the opportunity to have face time with professionals in the business arena.
Depending on each student’s interest/career path, they are assigned to one of these 5 occupational training cohorts:
- Customer Service
As an example, the capstone for the IT cohort is to build a fully functional website. Pictured below is an image of the IT virtual work experience.
Q: What are some of the youth/student benefits with a virtual program like this?
A: Our gamified system appeals to youth and has cool, innovative features to make it fun and interactive. This goes way beyond hearing an instructor lecture for an hour. There are some great incentives along the learning path that include digital badges for youth to earn as well as completion rewards.
We like to think of this program along the lines of an “intelligent assistant.” The goal is to model what is being done at the collegiate level, like having a video-based instructor versus an in-person instructor – that’s a real-life scenario. The youth-employer connection is invaluable for networking and seeking long-term opportunities beyond this program, such as work-based learning or full-time job opportunities. The youth have a chance to work as a consultant on a team for the capstone project they will present to the employer. It doesn’t get more real than that in the world of work!
Q: How has EDSI’s experience been working on this pilot virtual youth program?
A: For EDSI, it’s all about engagement. We’re not trying to run an extension of high school. The ultimate goal is to seamlessly run a very hands-on (even though it’s virtual) program in an effective and fun way for kids who need positive programming.
Running an innovative, quality virtual program like this is a testament to our ability to pivot and meet the needs of the ever-changing learning landscape. It’s very rewarding and EDSI is thrilled to be able to continue to support connecting Detroit residents, youth and employers now and in the years to come.
Q: What long-term opportunities can we expect to see in virtual learning?
A: At EDSI, virtual learning is being infused into many existing programs that serve both youth and adults. The convenience and accessibility alone have allowed us to connect to even more populations needing our services.
Workforce Boards across the U.S. are expressing interest in our expertise in digital programming. We’re excited to work even more closely with boards and cities to shape ideas and concepts of innovative ways to allocate funding for programming and show them what digital learning solutions can look like.
Virtual learning offers long-term access to training content and engagement with a larger variety of employers and businesses beyond our region who may need our services even when in-person learning resumes.