Job shadowing is an unpaid experience where a student follows an employer for a short period of time to learn about a particular occupation or industry. This activity helps students explore the world of work and the range of opportunities found within an occupational area.
Benefits to Students
Job shadowing helps students develop realistic outlooks on careers and the educational preparation, competencies, and experience it takes to enter the workforce. A visit to the workplace exposes students to careers they do not know exist and shows them workplaces they otherwise might not have an opportunity to know about or experience. A shadowing experience assists students in connecting what they are learning in the classroom to the skills needed to succeed in careers. It can help students to define and explore their own career interests and discover career paths, including higher education, that will enable them to achieve their career goals. Some students develop long-term, positive relationship with adults as a result of their job shadow experiences.
Benefits to Employers
For employers, hosting job shadows is a chance to make a difference in the workforce of the future without making a major time commitment. It's exciting to help students make the link between learning and earning and many employers state that they and their employees discover new skills and talents in the process of sharing their job skills.
Benefits to Schools
Staff in schools report that students who participate in job shadowing are excited and often are more motivated learners. Integrating job shadowing into a school's program enables the school to enhance their career development curriculum. As a result of arranging job shadowing for their students, schools form positive relationships with community members and local employers.
Setting Up a Job Shadowing Experience
Identify Student Interests
The first step in setting up a shadowing experience is to work with students to identify their career interests. This can be as simple as asking students to name five careers that interest them. It can also be done more formally by administering interest inventories or surveys.
Develop Business Contacts
The next step in setting up a shadowing experience is to find employers who are willing to host students. Many schools mail interest forms to different organizations within the community to establish a pool of possible sites. Informational business forums may be conducted to recruit employers/sites. Some schools establish a database and expand it on an ongoing basis to keep a record of local employers interested in shadowing. Many schools and employers in Vermont report that personal contact with potential job shadowing sites is the most effective method of recruiting shadow placements. Students and parents may also identify potential sites.
Students need to be thoroughly prepared before they go out on a job shadow. In addition to classroom preparation that focuses on researching and exploring careers, there are practical concerns to be addressed.
• Outline dress and behavior expectations. While the classroom preparation for career exploration activities usually covers this information, it never hurts to reinforce the message that dress and behavior standards in the workplace are different from those at school. Remind students that they are representing the school as well as themselves. The coordinator should be aware of the dress code at each work site and discuss
appropriate attire with students.
• Questions to ask during the visit. Students won't always know what questions to ask of their host. It may be helpful to provide students with a list of questions about career opportunities, educational requirements, and job descriptions. Remind students to relate their questions to their career interests, goals, and expectations. These questions may also be used as research information in a follow-up activity or as the foundation for further exploration.
• Checklists. Give students a checklist which includes everything they need to do to prepare for the job shadow. Preparing a resume, getting permission slips signed, arranging schedules and transportation (if necessary),and doing background research are all possible checklist items.
• Thank you letter instructions. A thank you letter to the job shadow host is very important. Many districts provide students with a sample thank you letter to use as a model. Encourage students to include at least one thing they learned or one classroom lesson that was reinforced during the visit. Thank you letters should be reviewed to ensure appropriateness and grammar by a teacher prior to being sent (perhaps as part of a class assignment).
• Reflection and evaluation. Ask students to evaluate their shadowing experiences. Evaluations can also be included as a follow-up activity in which students write or talk about their experiences.
Employers must be thoroughly prepared for the job shadowing experience. Make sure that employers are aware of everything that they are expected to do. Many schools prepare a handbook or an instruction sheet for employers which contains a combination of the following:
• An overview of legal responsibilities. Although the job shadow is less complicated legally than other work-based learning activities, there are still some legal issues about which employers should be aware (e.g., accidents not covered by workers' compensation). Make sure that job shadow hosts understand potential liabilities in advance.
• Advice for working with young people. Many professionals are unaccustomed to the unique challenges of communicating and working with young people. Remind hosts that they may be faced with student attitudes and expectations that may seem unrealistic in the workplace. Encourage hosts to provide as many active learning experiences as possible.
• Use of academic and technical skills. Encourage employers to emphasize the ways in which mathematics, language, science, writing, listening, and interpersonal skills are used in the workplace.
• Copies of student questions. Help employers to be better prepared by letting them know what kinds of questions students may be asking.
• Evaluation materials. Employer response to the job shadow is essential for maintaining a successful activity. Provide employers with forms and reflection time to evaluate student participation, as well as the experience itself.
Connecting the Job Shadow to the Classroom
It is important to make the job shadowing experience meaningful by connecting it to classroom learning and with academic standards. Connections can take many forms and should take place at all stages of the shadowing experience.
• Students research the general career fields and specific organizations in which they will be shadowing.
• Students write about their preconceptions and expectations for the job shadow.
• Students prepare questions based on their research and writings to ask their hosts.
• Students and teachers discuss professional standards for behavior and dress.
• Teachers emphasize practical applications of the concepts and skills they teach in class.
• Students ask their hosts about the ways in which different academic subjects relate to their work.
• Students observe practical applications of academic concepts.
• Students ask their hosts about their career paths and suggestions they have for others who are interested in the field.
• Students write about the differences between their expectations and the realities of the workplace.
• Students and teachers discuss the connections they see between classroom learning and the workplace.
• Students write, revise, and send thank you letters to employers.
• Students continue their career research in light of what they have learned during the job shadow experience.