It’s all about finding the right fit. That’s how Jay Winger, senior vice president of human resources and facilities at ChildServe, best summed up his organization’s 10-year success as a business partner for high school internships.

ChildServe, a healthcare organization that annually serves more than 5,600 children with disabilities, developmental delays, injuries and other needs, has been a go-to partner for internships for several central Iowa high school work-based learning programs. School districts such as Des Moines, Johnston, Dallas Center-Grimes, Waukee, Dowling Catholic and West Des Moines have collaborated with ChildServe on work-based learning experiences such as job shadows, worksite visits and more. Additionally, Johnston, Dallas Center-Grimes and Waukee have dedicated internship programs that annually partner with ChildServe.

“We have been committed to building relationships with these school districts for student learning experiences,” Winger said. “Strong relationships are key to promote who we are, what we can offer to students and what they can expect in our internship opportunities.”

Preparing students on the business expectations for their hands-on work at ChildServe – or any organization – is a large part of a quality educational work-based learning experience. Many schools require classroom work on career development and professional skills prior to an internship, and with the assistance of work-based learning coordinators who help connect students to and prepare them for hands-on learning, students strengthen skills and expectations in areas like interviewing, resume writing, using email and spreadsheets, teamwork, communication, attendance and dress requirements.

“Work-based learning coordinators do a really good job at prepping their interns,” Winger said. “When the students get here, we notice they are very polished and professional. They are wonderful to work with.”

Mindi Heitland at Waukee Community Schools has been the school-to-work internship program coordinator since 2008 and has partnered with ChildServe over the past decade. She notes that both Waukee and Waukee Northwest High Schools have seen successful work-based learning experiences due to their preparation in the classroom and meeting the needs of the employers.

“We look at the interests of both the student and the employer,” she said. “The coursework we teach prior to going to the worksite is key because we can prepare students based on the needs of the business or organization. We also help teach new workplace skills that are emerging such as new technology and adjusting to hybrid work schedules.”

Through the school to work internship program at Waukee, high school seniors prepare for their internships in the classroom for approximately nine weeks prior to the start of onsite learning in October. Internships typically run through May and require around 15 hours of work per week. Waukee students are eligible to earn both high school and college credits through the school-to-work internship program, all the while learning company culture, networking with employers and gaining professional experience.

“It can open a student’s eyes to a whole new world,” Heitland said. “They get to work with experts in the field who know what degree or experience is needed for these types of careers. Students can hear first-hand about the future of the workforce, what it takes to get there and how their skill sets fit in.”

Student preparation and learning prior to any onsite internship experience is highly important, and quality work-based learning programs led by dedicated work-based learning coordinators can provide a more uniform and valuable experience for students. Along with Waukee Community Schools, central Iowa school districts like Johnston and Dallas Center-Grimes use work-based learning coordinators to provide consistent preparation and support for students and employers in their internship programs.

For schools new to work-based learning, building and evolving a quality program like Waukee’s can be challenging. But Heitland touts the benefits of having an internship program and encourages schools to jump in with available helpful resources to assist their efforts.

“When you are starting an internship program, it can be overwhelming because you’re often the only person in your school who is coordinating internships,” she said. “The Iowa Internship Toolkit through the Iowa Department of Education is an amazing resource for anyone developing an internship program. It sets a roadmap for getting started and saves so much time. It helps schools build quality work-based learning programs that are better prepared to work with businesses.”

Heitland has used the toolkit to boost aspects of Waukee’s internship program and to better understand child labor laws, safety guidelines and how to build relationships with businesses. As a result, she has strengthened her relationship with ChildServe and values them as a huge resource for her students’ education in career development and exploration.

“ChildServe has been one of the best businesses we have ever worked with,” she said. “I tell my students when they go there that it is honestly one of the best places for interns. Their employees are excited to have the students and are very welcoming. They will provide feedback and help set goals for the students to succeed.”

Although ChildServe internships often focus on the typical healthcare-related fields like occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing and general health care, the organization has also stressed other career areas that are a part of a healthcare organization in their internship opportunities.

“We work to find the best matches for each of the student’s interests and skills,” said Carolyn Miner, talent acquisition supervisor at ChildServe. “Students who are interested in accounting, information technology, marketing and communications, human resources and more can also find opportunities here at ChildServe.”

Work-based learning coordinators can help students find internship placements that may not be readily known. Businesses like ChildServe rely on these coordinators to help spread the word about the different opportunities they can offer to students.

“We do depend on the work-based learning coordinators to promote our positions to their students,” Miner said. “They help sell it to students by showing that we have many opportunities outside of the typical placements.”

Offering these varied work-based learning opportunities is a win-win for ChildServe. They can help local students gain valuable experience – and they can introduce their organization and workplace benefits to the future workforce.

“It’s vital to expose young people to what the healthcare industry can offer,” Winger said. “We invest in internships because we want interns to consider us as an employer in the future. We often see former interns come back during summer break or after graduation to work here, which is great for us and for health care in general.”

ChildServe encourages businesses to take part in internship and work-based learning programs with high schools as well as colleges to help develop the talent pipeline and understand new ways of thinking.

“We learn from interns, too,” Miner said. “They bring new ideas and fresh perspectives, which helps us grow and evolve as an organization.”

ChildServe is committed to providing student work-based learning opportunities in Iowa for years to come. They look forward each year to the partnerships they have with area schools and hope to expand their opportunities and relationships with other districts across the state.

“We would love to see even more students walk through our doors,” Winger said. “We’re mission-driven, have strong core values and want the next generation to be a part of our organization.”

Questions on developing high quality work-based learning programs in Iowa may be directed to Iowa’s work-based learning consultant Kristy Volesky at Connections to resources, guide materials and upcoming events on work-based learning can be found on the Department’s website.

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