We sat down for a Q&A with Julie Lammers, Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy for American Student Assistance
Q: During this crisis period, what do education stakeholders need to consider when thinking about how to address career preparation, especially for seniors who are due to graduate this spring?
A: Even before this crisis, many students across the nation lacked exposure to the workforce. When students do not have opportunities like internships and other work-based learning experiences, they have less of an ability to build the skills and social capital they need to be successful and move quickly into the working world. Lack of exposure to work also mean that students don’t have the ability to build their occupational identity—to discover what motivates them and what drives their passion. So, it is important that we continue to find ways to help students explore their options even as we go through this major disruption. We need to be creative and find new ways to make work-based learning a part of the digital learning experience. Right now, this exploration and development is critical to our immediate and long-term workforce recovery, as well as to individual student success.
Q: When economic downturns occur, many employers may lay off employees. Recent federal data show that millions of people have filed for unemployment in recent weeks. How do we maintain learning opportunities for youth and young people as employers are struggling to keep their permanent workers?
A: The tendency with business disruptions like this one is to go back to basics. Businesses tend to focus on what is essential to stay in operation and throw what feels “extra” – like internships or other training programs – out the door. That’s perfectly understandable. But, the important thing to remember is that these opportunities are vital to the future of business. These programs are helping to create the next skilled group of employees. As we recover from the COVID-19 outbreak and economic disruption, employers need to lean into these programs and invest in them so that we have a pipeline of employees to push the economy forward. Those that do will be set up for long-term success.
Q: The first COVID-19 stimulus package passed by Congress contained funding for various types of support to the education sector. What is ASA looking for in these packages or policies at other levels to help the recovery?
A: We are really looking for ways to encourage work-based learning for students starting in high school. Good options for achieving this may be tax incentives for employers to maintain or expand internships, apprenticeships and other programs. Additionally, support might come in the form of grants for employers to create such opportunities for students. Both of those are good options. Where it is not possible to provide paid work-based learning experiences, at a minimum, high schools, colleges and universities should establish the infrastructure to provide course credit for unpaid work-based learning experiences. Many students miss out on building skills through these programs because they can neither gain credit nor receive pay for their time. This greatly limits the ability of many students to take advantage of these valuable learning experiences. A handful of states across the nation, Tennessee for example, have effective models of work-based learning across their entire education system. Other states should emulate this and begin to build incentives and infrastructure to sustain high quality work-based learning programs statewide.
Q: What advice do you have for families who have students on the verge of graduating? What should they be doing to ensure they make informed decisions about the future, especially given the impact that this crisis is having across the post-secondary education community?
A: This is a tough time for parents and families. They are doing their best to keep kids on track with learning while helping them navigate the next step in their lives. The best advice we can give parents at the moment is to resist the urge to help your child pick a path simply because “they must do something.” Don’t jump into anything too quickly. As best you can, try to help your student explore their interests, passions, interests and options. Ask simple questions about what is it they really love to do with their time, why do they want to go to a specific college or university, why that apprenticeship might interest them, etc. We must help kids make more deliberate choices about their education and career goals, not settle for something because current circumstances forced them to just choose a path. You can help them discover their own occupational identity by helping them connect to resources that can provide networking opportunities, help them develop new skills that they can use down the line, such as public speaking or writing. If parents or teachers know someone in a profession that their students are interested in, then help connect the students so they can build that critically important social network that leads so many to jobs and careers. Even though we’re in a period of social distancing, we can continue to make important social connections.
Content originally published in the FINN Partners newsletter on April 15, 2020