As the summer slowly melts into pumpkin spice everything, we reflect on meaningful learning experiences that transcend and enhance a traditional learning plan. Experiential learning opportunities have a meaningful and lasting impact not only on the students that participate, but on the businesses and within the industries that provide these opportunities to extend learning beyond the walls of a classroom. As we conclude another amazing summer here at Motivis, we want to thank all of our interns who learned with us and helped us develop, build, test, research, and improve our product. Thank you.

Houston, we’ve got a problem. America has a “skills gap” on its hands: about 40 percent of employers say they cannot find employees with the skills they need, and 60 percent find a lack of preparation, even for entry-level jobs.

Students between the ages of 18-24,  especially those from minority or low-income backgrounds, are struggling to find jobs after graduating. Even though the United States Department of Labor displayed a negative trend of youth unemployment between 2005 and 2015, with about 60% of teens employed during the summer, a recent study showed notably lower rates for black males (14%) and Latinos (21%).

Despite unemployment rates being particularly low, employers are still struggling to find employees with the right skills. How can we close this gap?

Don’t sweat it: summer work programs are trending! A recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report stated that 115,766 youths were placed in summer jobs in 2015.

A typical summer jobs program lasts five to seven weeks, and provides work opportunities to young adults struggling to find jobs otherwise. Researchers Martha Ross and Richard Kazis from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution explain that there programs “offer a paycheck, employment experiences, and other organized activities in the service of multiple goals: increasing participants’ income, developing young people’s skills and networks to improve their labor market prospects, and offering constructive activities to promote positive behavior.”

What do students do in these programs? The sky’s the limit! Summer job programs encompass opportunities such as STEM-related skills, building and engineering opportunities, education positions, internship opportunities, and healthcare experience, to name a few. These programs can also boost the local economy, which is an additional bonus for the community.

Summer work programs also often outlast the season by making long-standing impacts on their participants. Many programs encourage students to seek new opportunities and expand their horizons, nurture mentorships between teens and supportive adults, enable students to earn paychecks, introduce students to “soft skills” that they will later find useful throughout their futures, and boost students’ self-growth and self-confidence.

From the results of outcomes-based programs led by Third Sector, students will also be able to better understand their roles as active, democratic, and independent citizens. Research finds that summer jobs programs can reduce violence, jail-time, and fatality while improving academic outcomes. Examples of successful programs include: Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD); the National Academy Foundation (NAF); the BronxWorks programs; WorkReady Philadelphia by the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN); and the New York City Summer Youth Employment Program (NYC SYEP).

Specific summer work programs are one of many ways that learners can successfully “skill up” through hands-on experiences in businesses and industry. However, there are many others that provide opportunities for all students to learn new skills and apply their knowledge and abilities meaningfully in the “real world.” Internships, apprenticeships, and other high-impact practices also provide experiential learning opportunities that transcend a student’s time learning in a classroom.

I have first-hand experience with the many benefits of internships, because I am currently a summer intern at Motivis Learning. I had the opportunity to learn about these programs and to write this blog post because of this internship, and I am grateful to be their education intern this summer for many reasons. Throughout my process of studying to be a high school English teacher, I want to be sure that I have done everything I can to gain as many skills as possible and take advantage of opportunities for practical application, not only so I can be the best educator possible, but also to give myself a competitive advantage for job prospects once I graduate.

Interning this summer has given me more confidence. As I have not previously worked in an edtech office, this experience has given me a new perspective on the constant collaboration that education requires so that its end goals are met. Besides my required pre-practicums, this is also my first “real-world” opportunity to invest myself in the education field. From this experience, I am learning in abundance about educational technology in a way that we do not typically cover in my education courses.

Because I am applying what I learned during the school year, I know I am taking what I learned to the next level. My internship has opened my eyes to the different kinds of students, strengths, and interests that I will encounter throughout my career, and I am so excited to apply what I have learned at Motivis to my studies this year!

So, to enroll in summer work programs, or not to enroll? That is the question. With the many benefits they offer, it seems like a no-brainer to enroll as many students as we can!

However, it’s important to remember the one drawback of a summer program: it only lasts for the summer. As Ross & Kazis explain, “because summer jobs programs tend to be stand-alone programs, with a hard stop at the end of the summer, relatively few are well-integrated or articulated with year-round youth development, educational, or training programs.”

Nevertheless, nothing is perfect. Ideally, summer work programs will become a well-integrated and essential component in the greater goal of preparing our youth for successful futures in their academic and career-driven endeavors. If we continue to improve these programs so this becomes a reality, we will be doing our country and our future generations a great service.