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Work-based learning is combating the skilled labor shortage

Research shows the growing skilled labor shortage is due to a gap in experience, skills, and opportunity. In addition to the rapidly retiring generation of employees, many businesses have been left in desperate need of skilled workers.

In light of these labor challenges, businesses cannot afford to overlook the relationship between their workforce challenges and our education system.

Only 45 percent of graduating high school students feel positive about college and career-readiness, according to a YouthTruth survey. Over half of our students feel disconnected from their education and unsure of their next steps after graduation. Traditional education models don’t always reflect workplace needs, and the relevant work skills required for many jobs can be difficult to gain without hands-on experience.

Through a continuum of work-based learning practices, GPS Education Partners works with schools and businesses to provide students with opportunities to learn about careers, reflect on their interests, set career goals, and develop the technical skills and work readiness needed by employers. GPSEd is helping to close the labor shortage gaps through a mix of hands-on exposure, experience, and career preparation for students who will be entering the workforce soon.

Work-based learning: Linking education to the real world of work

Work-based learning provides purposeful, apprenticeship-type learning to empower students and encourage employers to take an active role in shaping the quality of their workforce while solving their talent pipeline problem.

According to JFF, a national nonprofit driving change in the American workforce and education systems, work-based learning integrates academic learning with real-world application to provide paths to educational and career advancement and build the talent pipeline. The work-based learning approach is especially helpful for low-income and low-skilled youth and adults, who often lack access to the type of work and learning experiences that serve as stepping stones to career opportunities.

With a work-based learning program, students follow a curriculum that meets graduation requirements while also aligning them with industry and job-specific training and technical certifications.

For example, GPSEd develops programs that offer up to 1,500 hours of on-the-job training. Students also have the potential to earn stackable credits where learning experiences are recognized by high schools, technical colleges, and industry experts.

Paving the way to technical careers

Even as the technical careers in the manufacturing industry continue to grow, 94 percent of students still show no interest in skilled trades due to lack of exposure and training.

GPSEd has made it their mission to introduce students to a variety of technical pathways to open their eyes to a non-traditional career path (i.e., not a four-year college) and discover the interests and strengths that will help them form a career and continued education plan they can act on.

The GPSEd work-based learning program has helped students like Joe Graef, one of GPSEd’s first graduates, grow into a management role at Komatsu. It’s also prompted feedback from alumni like Gavin Etzel, “GPS helped me become successful when high school failed me. I am now graduating with a job and a diploma. I got a lot of experience that I would not have gotten at a traditional high school.”

Not only did a work-based learning experience provide opportunities for these students, but by partnering with businesses who can also benefit from the fresh talent, it’s a win-win solution addressing the skilled labor shortage.

Transforming the workforce

There are students full of potential who have not been recognized yet because they haven’t had access to the guidance and realm of possibility necessary to flourish. When businesses and educators come together in a work-based learning program, they’re able to provide career opportunities, strengthen our communities, and promote workforce development.

Implementing a work-based learning program into your business means providing a student with technical knowledge and valuable life skills. It’s one of the best ways for a business to give back to the community, develop new leaders, and ultimately solve a growing issue within the workforce.

GPSEd supports communities by developing Wisconsin talent for Wisconsin manufacturers. If you’d like to get involved, contact us today for more information, or to support our mission, consider donating to our Close The Gap campaign. Visit for more information on how you can give back to Wisconsin’s workforce.

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Laura Derpinghaus - GPS Education Partners
Laura Derpinghaus is an enthusiastic marketing strategist with 25 years of proven experience working with manufacturers on both B2B and B2C marketing strategies. In her new role as Director of Marketing and Communications for GPS Education Partners, she is putting her communication skills to work by engaging manufacturers into new conversations about how work-based learning can do more than fill their talent pipeline.

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