Workplace Challenge Guide

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Fact Sheet

Workplace Challenge Fact Sheet

What is a Workplace Challenge?

A Workplace Challenge is a Career Preparation activity where small groups of learners (four to six per team) are engaged in solving a real-world problem or a challenge issued by an employer. The challenge is identified by the employer in consultation with the work-based learning connector and a classroom teacher or faculty member. The structure of the challenge is based upon effective project based learning approaches, enhanced by a focus on the targeted career pathway and an authentic problem or issue faced by an employer partner.

Learners work as a team to identify possible solutions. They then create and deliver a presentation on their solutions to the employer. Designed to meet specific learning objectives, workplace challenges are educationally rich, are tied to the curriculum, and help learners connect what they’re learning in school with the workplace.

Workplace challenges are one activity in the continuum of authentic work-based experiences provided to all learners engaged in career-related programs or course of study in the Earn & Learn community.

Workplace Challenges Are Designed To:

  • Provide exposure to potential careers in an industry of interest.
  • Develop problem solving and research skills.
  • Develop teamwork and presentation skills.
  • Help learners make the connection between school and the workplace.
  • Inform career planning.

Workplace Challenges Are Structured To:

  • Offer learners the opportunity to explore and practice in a field of interest.
  • Give learners the opportunity to enhance the relevance of academic concepts through the application of applied knowledge.
  • Build knowledge about the education and training needed for a particular career path and entry into the industry.
  • Allow for Teacher/Employer interaction to support the challenge.

Workplace Challenges Are Supported By:

  • Classroom preparation, including research on the industry and participating businesses.
  • Employer orientation and support.
  • Opportunities to reflect upon the experience verbally and in writing.

Workplace Challenges Are Connected To:

  • Individual career development/training plans.
  • Future work-based learning activities.
  • Identifiable academic curricular goals.
  • The learner’s next steps.

Go Deeper

  • Have several teams of learners address the same challenge and reward the most innovative solutions through a competition—with the employer or a team of employers serving as the judge(s).
  • After the presentation of the solution and critique by the employer partner, have the team(s) revisit their approach, define a new solution and present it to the employer partner(s).
  • Sequence a series of challenges for the same team of learners so the experiences build on one another.
  • Model aspects of the challenge after reality TV shows such as “Shark Tank” (with the learners pitching their solutions to a group of employers).
  • Have the challenge flow into an internship for successful learners.
Workplace Challenge Alternate Format – Challenge Lite

If the time and intensity of the workplace challenge described here is difficult to apply in your program model, consider a “workplace challenge lite.” Maintain key components of the challenge (employer issues a real-world challenge, learners work together to define a solution and present to the employer) but identify a simpler problem with the employer that a small group of learners might define over a single, two or three-hour session.

Support Materials
Connector Checklist

Connector Workplace Challenge Checklist

Quick tips for Work-Based Learning Connectors to ensure a successful workplace challenge.

Before The Workplace Challenge:

  • Identify all interested teachers, help them plan their challenges. Share the Teacher/Faculty Tip Sheet.
  • Work with the teacher/faculty to recruit and team learners, create learning objectives and work with learners to prepare for the challenge.
  • Design the challenge with the employer and teacher, making sure that it’s one the learners can potentially address, and that teachers/faculty can support. Typically, the employer presents a number of possible problems or issues that might constitute the challenge and you can help select and develop one that’s a good fit with the current focus in the classroom. Selection should also reflect the interests of participating learners and the availability of resources to support addressing the challenge.
  • Encourage the employer to identify a real-world problem or issue—one that the industry is facing today. Make it real.
  • Develop a timeline for the challenge. Include when and where it will be issued, the time set aside in the regular schedule for learners to address the challenge, scheduled “touch” points with the challenge host, and when and where the solution presentation will take place.
  • Distribute and collect appropriate forms.
  • Address any additional logistical issues such as transportation, safety gear or access to equipment and tools.
  • Determine the employer’s preferred form and frequency of contact and define an ongoing communication strategy and feedback protocols for the challenge.

During The Workplace Challenge:

  • Observe and meet with learners as they address the challenge. Make sure they’re engaged in the challenge and interacting with the employer as appropriate.
  • Share the Work-Readiness Competencies with the workplace challenge hosts.
  • Support the challenge host in preparing to receive the presentation on the solution(s) to the challenge.

After The Workplace Challenge:

  • Document the workplace challenge. Review feedback from employers, teachers/faculty and learners and summarize results. Make recommendations for improvements.
  • Help learners update their career development plan and think about any next steps they would like to take to further their career goals. Work with teachers/faculty to coordinate “go deeper” activities to connect the workplace challenge to the classroom.
  • Send thank-you notes to employers and identify possible next steps with the employer. Take pictures from the workplace challenge and provide them to the companies for their websites or newsletters. Ensure you have signed releases for all photos.
  • Publicize the workplace challenge and the businesses that participated by placing a story in the local newspaper or posting on the school or agency webpage.
  • Consider other potential public relations benefits and opportunities.

This includes Earn & Learn work-based learning connectors and others who facilitate, arrange and support work-based learning activities for learners.

Sample Timeline
  • Beginning of the school year: Identify interested teachers/faculty and brainstorm business partners who could participate.
  • One month in advance: Invite business partners to participate. Design the challenge with employer and teacher.
  • One week in advance: Send employers logistics and address any questions.
  • During challenge: Observe the presentation and the challenge process in the classroom. Help teachers/faculty and employers support the activity.
  • At end of challenge: Observe the solution presentation (ideally at worksite), engage in dialogue and receive feedback on the approach.
  • Note: While it’s desirable to bookend the challenge with visits to the company, take care to minimize the impact on small to medium-sized organizations.
Tips For Success
  • Conduct Effective Planning
  • Prepare for Success
  • Identify Learning Objectives
  • Create Authentic and Engaging Experiences
  • Connect to Careers
  • Support Learner Growth
  • Ensure Activities are Safe and Legal
  • Provide Ongoing Support
  • Provide for Reflection, Presentation and Feedback
  • Connect to the Learner Next Step
  • Assess and Document the Experience

Remote Note

Please see “Provider Guide: The Workplace Challenge” in the Remote and Virtual Section of this toolkit.

Remote Workplace Challenges Should Include
  • Orientation and onboarding training for learners and employers to discuss standards and schedule for workplace challenge that lead to a culminating presentation.
  • Clear expectations and protocol around communication between the employer, the learners and the work-based learning connector.
  • Outlined check ins to discuss specific deliverables and learning objectives for employer and learners.
  • Secure online structure of employer and teacher support.
  • Adherence to policy guidelines with respect to work-based learning.
  • A clearly defined real-world problem or a workplace challenge issued by an employer.
  • Defined employer supervised learner teams that will work together to identify possible solutions to the real work problem.
Communication Standards for Workplace Challenges
  • A reliable and secure virtual platform should be used for all remote communications (meeting, calls, etc.) with learners including Face Time, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and/or Zoom platforms.
  • All parties are encouraged to adopt a virtual background or blur their background for all video calls,
  • When appropriate, include the learner’s teacher and/or Work Based Learning connector on all calendar invites and meeting requests so that they may be allowed to join to support learners and/or view learners in their “working environment”.
  • An environment conducive to networking with industry professionals, exposure to potentials careers in a specific industry, development of problem solving and presentation skills, and the opportunity for career planning.
Tools & Docs

Workplace Challenge Downloads

Learner Preparation
  • Research the partner companies.
  • Discuss how the challenge can help them meet learning objectives.
Learner Reflection
  • Spark learner reflection with an activity.
  • Ask, “What new things did you learn about this industry?”
  • See if they want to find out more or further explore careers in the employer partner’s industry.