How to Equitably Match Students With Work-Based Learning Opportunities

Your business network is up and running. Your students have begun to identify their interests and think seriously about internship experiences. How do you match the right students with the right internship opportunities, especially when you have hundreds or thousands of students to manage simultaneously?

In recent weeks, we’ve posted blogs on how to engage local business partners and overcome common challenges to scaling WBL. This week, we continue our series on Scaling Work-Based Learning with an overview of the student matching process, with tips and insights from our CTE experts. 

Matching classrooms

Some WBL experiences, especially those in the earlier stages of the WBL continuum, involve recruiting business partners to be guest speakers in classes or visit your school for informational interviews or career exploration events.

For these events, start by reaching out to your network of business partners. Ask them for their availability (in two-hour time blocks), and gather information about the number of representatives they can send and the type of experience they’re willing to participate in. Start with broad outreach to your entire business network–but then follow up with phone calls, individual emails, and other communication with businesses that could make the biggest impact on your students. It may be helpful to look at surveys from past career exploration events to see which business partners were most effective.

Once business partners have signed up, create a schedule for the event that aligns with your school’s class periods. If your district has multiple schools participating in the event, you may need different schedules per building depending on the length and start/end times of their classes.

On the schedule, include a list of participating companies and a description of what they do. Share the schedule with teachers and ask them to assess their class’s interest in the various opportunities, and sign up for their top three choices.

Once you’ve accumulated all the teachers’ preferences, place business partners in classrooms based on schedule alignment and equitable distribution of those preferences. Not everyone will be able to receive their first-choice opportunity–but do the best you can to ensure that every class can participate in an experience they find interesting.

Don’t allow teachers to sign up on a first-come, first-serve basis. Teachers are often extremely busy, and a first-come first-serve system favors the teachers who happen to have an earlier gap in their schedule to devote to signing up.

If there are more interested classrooms than there are business partners, you may have to do additional outreach after the first round of signups to recruit more business partners–or, ask the participating business partners if they could expand the number of opportunities they’re offering.

Matching students with worksites

The more time-intensive WBL experiences, like internships and job shadowing, require a more complex matching process. Geographic location is a crucial component–never match a student to a worksite if they don’t have a safe and reliable way to get to and from that worksite. 

Reach out to business partners 8-10 weeks before the start of the experience. Ask them for their geographic location, who will be hosting the students, and a description of what the students will be doing (for example, if a business has agreed to host an internship, what tasks will the intern be expected to perform? What is the work schedule?).

Once you’ve compiled this information from participating business partners, send students an initial matching document listing all the available opportunities. You can either route that document through the teachers, or send it directly to students. Routing through teachers is helpful if you have more students than available opportunities–that way, the teacher can help identify which students would most benefit from the experiences.

Once you’ve completed the initial round of matching based on the sign-up sheet you distributed, assess the assignments based on gender, geographic location, ethnicity, and other important factors to make sure there is an equitable distribution of students across worksites. Consider nuances like:

  • Transportation: do not assign a student to a worksite that would take them more than an hour to travel to.
  • Student interest: if a student has expressed a long-term interest in a career field, they should be a higher priority for that experience than a student with only a passing interest. Similarly, if a student has already engaged with a company through a prior WBL experience, do your best to match them with the same company so they continue to grow and develop that relationship.
  • Accessibility: if a student has an IEP, a learning disability, or is physically impaired, work with the business partner to ensure they are equipped to serve that student well before making the match official.
  • School distribution: if multiple schools in your district are participating, make sure there’s an equitable distribution of experiences across schools.
  • Business partner preferences: some business partners may have specific requests–for example, they only want students from one particular school. Do your best to accommodate these requests to nurture a positive relationship with the business partner.

Once the matching process is complete, send offer letters to students asking them to accept their opportunity. Don’t send out any rejections yet–wait until all students have accepted their offers and all slots are filled before bumping students to their second or third choices.

6 tips from our WBL experts

  1. Always maintain a lens of equity and access. The purpose of matching is not just to find the right student, but to find a fair distribution of experiences among students.
  1. Be transparent, consistent, and honest. If students, parents, teachers, or other stakeholders are upset with the results of the matching, you’ll need to be able to justify your assignments using data and consistent processes. Make sure matching is standardized across the entire district. If you have multiple team members working together to match students, ensure that everyone understands the guidelines and personal biases do not affect the results.
  1. Take student attrition rates into account. Not every student who signs up for an opportunity will actually participate in that opportunity. Students drop out at every stage of the WBL process–so keep that in mind when you’re matching. Look at your data. If past attrition rates have been high, you may consider “overmatching”: assigning more students than there are available opportunities, on the assumption that some will drop out.
  1. Student success is the top priority. Do your best to never turn a student away. If a student signs up, make sure they are matched with some opportunity, even if it’s not their first choice. Similarly, if a business partner agrees to participate, make sure to send them at least one student!
  1. Lead with empathy. You can’t make everyone perfectly happy, and you may face some upset students and parents after matching. But by leading with empathy, acknowledging their frustration, and being transparent about the matching process, you can explain why the opportunity they’ve been assigned is valuable.
  1. Engage in continuous improvement. After matching, send out surveys to gather feedback on how the process worked. Also collect data on the WBL experience itself, and use that data to inform future matching.

The right software is critical

The matching process is extremely complex, especially on a large scale. If you’re managing your matching with spreadsheets, it’s all too easy for students or business partners to fall through the cracks. Leverage software that will automate communication and allow you to see at a glance how many students have been matched, accepted their offers, been placed on a work site, etc. Systemizing, automatizing, and accessing templatized reports are crucial components of matching at scale.

Our Transeo Jobs platform was built to help educators grow and scale their WBL programs. To find out how we can facilitate the matching process in your district, contact us today!