Connecting Activities Preparing Students for Success after High School

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Connecting Activities

Preparing Students for Success after High School
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Annual Report

FY 15


Connecting Activities

Preparing Students for Success after High School

Annual Report FY15

Office of College and Career Readiness

December 2015
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Phone 781-338-3000 TTY: N.E.T. Relay 800-439-2370

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Phone 781-338-3000 TTY: N.E.T. Relay 800-439-2370

success after high school logo
Connecting Activities (CA)1 is a dynamic Massachusetts initiative launched in 1998 to help schools expose students to the world of work and prepare for their futures. CA is a state-funded system, led by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), linking education, business and workforce development partners through the work of skilled intermediaries and provides our students with work experience and other career awareness activities that support their preparation for college and career. Connecting Activities has developed deep roots across the state since its inception, providing participating communities with the required infrastructure to support brokered career development education and work experience for our youth.
Connecting Activities is funded annually through an appropriation in the state’s budget (Line Item 7027-0019).2 CA funds are allocated by ESE through a competitive process to all sixteen local Workforce Development Board (WDB) regions in the state. In turn, the WDBs partner with high schools and other local stakeholders to offer work-based learning and career development education services to students.
Effective partnerships with employers are essential for moving the work of CA forward to provide students relevant career development activities. The CA system has developed strong connections with thousands of employers over the years, involving them in every aspect of career readiness, ranging from short term career awareness events, such as guest speaker series, to more sustained engagement, including high-powered internship and employment programs. CA also brokers relationships with important local associations of employers, such as chambers of commerce and industry associations.
Schools are also integral for the success of the CA initiative. In FY15, over half of the state’s 393 high schools were connected to the CA initiative, creating a powerful network for our students. The high schools involved in the network include urban, suburban and rural high schools; they are academic, comprehensive and career vocational technical education (CVTE) schools. CA is instrumental in building systems of Career Development Education (CDE), including new career pathways, in all of these settings. A key resource used in this work is ESE’s Guide to Career Development Education. This guide has been widely disseminated and field practitioners now regularly use it to improve their CDE systems.
Thousands of students have been served as a result of the system that CA has built. It is noteworthy that, currently in Massachusetts, there are about 60,000 high school students (20% of all high school students) enrolled in CVTE programs, and about 230,000 (80%) that are not. While Connecting Activities serves students in both kinds of settings, it has a stronger role to play for the 80% not enrolled in CVTE programming, where there is a greater need for CDE supports. CA is designed to offer all students the foundational (employability) and technical skills needed to be ready for the many skilled positions available in the state’s labor market, wherever they may be enrolled.

FY15 Performance across the Commonwealth
During FY15, when the state appropriation was funded at $3.1 million, Connecting Activities had a very productive year, generating significant outcomes:

  • Employers invested $14,690,000 in wages to support student internships, almost a 5:1 match (the legislation requires 2:1, but the initiative regularly exceeds that).

  • 10,487 students were placed in internships at 3,477 employer sites.

  • 7,677 (73%) students utilized the Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Plan (WBLP) on the job. The WBLP structures learning and productivity at the worksite and formally connects classroom lessons (MA Curriculum Frameworks aligned with Common Core Standards) to work-based learning experiences.

  • 7,677 students participated in classes/workshops including career exploration, work-readiness and internship workshops.

  • 2,775 employers sponsored career awareness and exploration activities for students including career days, job shadowing and guest speaker programs.

  • 185 high schools were partners in the CA initiative, and another 50 were members, totaling more than half of the state’s 393 public high schools.

Highlights from FY15
In the state and across the nation, FY15 was an important year for public dialogue about the career readiness of students. A primary driver for this dialogue was increasing concern about the readiness and sufficiency of a talent pipeline for vacancies in the labor market across the nation and here in Massachusetts. Continuing evidence of a skills gap in this state, and of the impending “silver tsunami” of older workers retiring in the next 5 years, especially from the advanced manufacturing sector, raised awareness of the importance of better preparation for students at the high school level for their next steps after graduation. Evidence of college graduates “underemployed” in positions that either do not require a college diploma or are not aligned with the students’ majors, in conjunction with related evidence of college graduates bearing very heavy debt loads, are red flags about the need for better preparation and better decision-making.
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a national association of the states’ heads of education departments, issued a report in November 2014 entitled “Opportunities and Options: Making Career Preparation Work for Students” in which it asserted:
Our nations’ secondary schools must provide young people with the knowledge, skills and experiences that will enable them to lead productive and fulfilling lives. In today’s economy, being “well prepared” means continuing education or training beyond high school. By year 2020, almost two thirds of jobs, and nearly all high paying jobs, will require postsecondary education or training. A high school diploma is simply no longer enough.
In its recommendations, the CCSSO called for setting a higher bar for the quality of career preparation programs, and offered several mechanisms for achieving that, including working with the employer community to “dramatically expand work-based learning opportunities to expose student to career options and connect what they’re learning in the classroom with the world of work.” Recommendation #6. (Report at 4).3 As further asserted in the Report,
Research has established that high school students who are exposed to real world work opportunities are more likely to graduate, persist in and complete postsecondary education, and secure high-paying employment. Yet very few of our young people ever experience meaningful work-based learning opportunities and career exposure while in high school. States must partner with the employer community to establish authentic opportunities for students to participate in real world work settings that are aligned with priority industry sectors. (Report at 14)
ESE is proud to note that the CCSSO Task Force Report made specific reference to Connecting Activities , identifying it as an example of an important initiative providing the needed employer partnerships, and naming Massachusetts as one of only a few states that have made work-based learning an important priority. (Report at 14). CA has gained national attention as a driver of reform with respect to scaling up opportunities for students, due to its substantial network of employers and high schools actively involved in this work, and its impressive record of large numbers of student placement.
To help explain the importance of career preparation for a range of Massachusetts audiences, ESE produced a video in FY15 narrated by Commissioner Mitchell Chester that describes three of its leading initiatives supporting career preparation: Connecting Activities, Career Vocational Technical Education, and the career pathways work of the Adult Community Learning Services unit. That video can be viewed at: As Commissioner Chester indicates, Connecting Activities plays a critical role in the state, and is a leading source of work-based learning experiences for students across the state.
As part of its stepped-up efforts in FY15, the CA network focused on enhancing partnering work with the state’s high schools, and that effort paid off 185 of the state’s 393 public high schools are now formal partners in the CA initiative, and another 55 are members, totaling well over half of all high schools. The scale of the CA programming efforts at each of these partner schools varies, but in all cases the goal is to serve more students, and offer a more comprehensive approach to career preparation. Below is a map that shows the wide geographic spread of partnering high schools.

To view the map at the Connecting Activities website and see a text list of partnering schools, visit:

In FY15, the CA initiative also tackled the importance of labor market information (LMI) in helping students make more informed decisions about their futures , ESE created a new Labor Market Information (LMI) Primer to help train educators and counselors about this subject, described further below. Our goal is to help staff become familiar with key LMI concepts and data sources, to help them support students in their career exploration. LMI also guides the development of career pathways and academies; school leaders need a working familiarity with LMI concepts and data to make important programmatic decisions, both in Career Vocational Technical high schools, and in academic high schools. ESE’s new Primer can be viewed at:
As just one example of the depth of the LMI information available to knowledgeable users, below is a chart from the Primer that offers insight into the array of occupations in Massachusetts in just one sector, the manufacturing industry.4 (Primer at 27) The manufacturing sub-sectors displayed in the chart are presented in order of educational attainment needed, to help readers see the significance of further education for these subsectors. This chart illustrates the power of LMI to guide student career awareness, something that the CA network will continue to train educators to use with students.


The Primer is just one of many tools created by the Connecting Activities initiative to support practitioners in the field. See examples at
State Level Leadership: Two departments of the Commonwealth’s executive branches are linked through Connecting Activities – the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) which guides the K-12 public education system, and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD) which guides the workforce development system, supported by the MA Workforce Development Board (MWDB). From the beginning, Connecting Activities has helped to build bridges between these two agencies and the local organizations they support.
Connecting Activities also plays a key role in the state’s overall college and career readiness (CCR) agenda. ESE and the Department of Higher Education adopted a joint definition of CCR in 2013. This definition is based on a holistic approach to college and career readiness for students, establishing that skills are needed in three critical domains for student success after high school: the academic; work readiness; and personal/social realms. CA initiatives address all three.
ESE is a collaborating partner in the Future Ready campaign, with the Department of Higher Education and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. In that capacity, ESE has directed Connecting Activities to support the state’s efforts to make sure every youth is “future ready.”
Connecting Activities is also a critical response by the state to the challenge of teen unemployment. Connecting Activities began well before the now well-known precipitous drop in youth employment; its importance in our state has also grown as that trend has worsened. As observed in the CCSSO Report,future ready logo
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent, the equivalent of 9.3 million Americans classified as unemployed. More troubling still, 14.3 of our 16-24 year olds are unemployed, yet there remain 4.8 million job openings in our economy, the highest number of job vacancies since January of 2001. (Report at 2, citations omitted)
The CCSSO Report about Career Readiness documented research showing the link between work experience and positive outcomes for youth. “Success after High School,” the mission of ESE for all students, will not be achieved without a deliberate strategy for offering teens work-based learning experiences as part of their learning process. Scaling up these efforts for all is a goal of CA.
Who does Connecting Activities serve? Connecting Activities reaches all corners of the state, from our large urban areas to our smaller cities, from suburban to rural areas, and is designed to serve students of all skill and income levels, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and low-income students. Connecting Activities is an initiative that scales up or down, depending upon available resources, and aspires to help all students become “Future Ready.”
While Connecting Activities serves all students, there is a strong effort to serve students at risk of dropping out. CA is aligned with the ESE’s strategies related to dropout prevention, graduation rate improvement, and student engagement. CA supports community efforts to target those students who are at risk of not earning their Competency Determination or of dropping out for some other reason.5
How does CA work? The sixteen Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) use CA funding primarily to pay for the human capital needed for the intermediary role that is the heart of the initiative, performed by both talented workforce professionals and educators. These staff broker work-based learning experiences for students, as well as career awareness and exploration activities in the community.
Each WDB has a designated lead staff member who serves as the CA point of contact for ESE. A core group of leaders, including these 16 staff members and a comparable number of leaders who have been active in those regions as support, guides CA under the direction of ESE staff. This core group meets several times a year to share information and effective practices, to support the continual improvement of the CA initiative statewide. Consisting of veteran and new staff members from education and workforce development, this leadership group provides the foundation for the CA initiative, developing and launching the new ideas and strategies that have emerged over the 18 years of the existence of CA.

In addition to that core leadership group that guides the work, there is a much larger network of practitioners who serve in the essential functions required in all participating communities, including school district administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, career counselors, workforce professionals at WDBs, chambers of commerce, and Career Centers, and local leaders of long-standing local School-to-Career partnerships, among others. Well over 250 people are part of this larger network.

In FY15, CA funding supported over 125 staff members in a wide range of positions located in a variety of organizations across the state – in WDBs, schools, One Stop Career Centers, chambers of commerce, community colleges and community–based organizations. Each WDB designs its CA budget to respond to unique local partnerships, but all the WDBs ensure that certain key functions are performed by appropriate staff: school leaders are consulted for program design; employer outreach is done to recruit placements for student internships and jobs, as well as other career development activities from local businesses and other organizations; students are prepared for work-based learning experiences and their performance on the job is assessed by career specialists.

CA Performance Expectations for the Commonwealth’s 16 WDBs
ESE has developed a set of core performance expectations for the WDBs:

  • They must generate at least two times the amount of funding in private sector wage match, as stipulated by the enabling legislation, based upon reported student wages.

  • They must establish goals about the number of student job placements they will broker and support, and then document their outcomes. They must also document the number of Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Plans, see further discussion below.

  • They must also establish goals for targeting students for work experience who are at risk of dropping out, to support the ESE’s major goal of improving graduation rates.

  • They must document a range of career awareness and exploration activities via ESE’s data-collection system.

  • They must provide quarterly reports about their progress against annual goals.

  • They must participate in a range of technical assistance opportunities designed by ESE to ensure a common understanding of expectations, to disseminate best practices and keep the network current.

The implementation of the Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Plan (WBLP) by the CA network deserves special note. The WBLP is a critical tool for mastery of the foundation, technical and higher order skills needed for success in the workplace. It is a diagnostic, goal-setting and assessment tool, offering structure and clarity to internships, summer jobs and other career immersion experiences. The WBLP is widely used across the state and offers a wealth of information for participating students, employers and program staff. In FY14, ESE produced a training video for new users of the WBLP, illustrating its value and ease of use. It can be found on the employer page of the CA website,

The WBLP is also the data source for ESE’s skill gain analysis; reports generated from data collected through the plan offer compelling evidence that the work-based learning experiences brokered by CA staff do in fact result in increased skills for the participants. The database maintained of student evaluation with the WBLP allows ESE to aggregate data across the state and to analyze trends with respect to skills that are being reviewed in the field.
The two charts below present FY15 data about skill gain in the eight foundation skills, along with the most common technical and higher order skills addressed by the WBLP.
Work-Based Learning Plan, Foundation Skills, June 2014 – June 2015

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The “foundation” skills are sometimes referred to as transferrable or soft skills, and making sure that many students gain competency in these key areas is a very high priority of the Connecting Activities initiative. The next chart presents the higher order or technical skills assessed by the WBLP.

Work-Based Learning Plan, 15 of the most commonly-used career and workplace skills, June 2014 – June 2015
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The WBLP is used across the state in a multitude of settings, during and after-school, in the school year and in the summer. It is implemented in the full range of employer sites that are connected to the schools by CA intermediaries. Part of its effectiveness lies in its versatility; it is customizable to the industry in question. Since 2005, practitioners have been able to use an on-line version of the WBLP, lending efficiency and greater capacity to the data analysis effort. In FY14, ESE released a mobile website version so that the WBLP can be used on smart phones and tablets in the field to simplify data entry.

The following chart of placements by industry in FY15 illustrates the diversity of industry sectors in which students supported by Connecting Activities have been placed.

To make effective use of the WBLP in all of these settings, CA staff members receive regular, ongoing professional development. Training is offered to all partners in the field, including employer partners, worksite supervisors and staff. 6 It is used in a wide range of internship/ employment programs, as well as WIOA programs and YouthWorks, the state’s subsidized employment program for eligible low income youth in 31 cities, managed by Commonwealth Corporation.

Connecting Activities has managed a database of the detailed information generated by the MA WBLP for many years. It is accessed at the site; there practitioners across the state log on to store the detailed information that underpins this initiative. Through this mechanism, ESE is able to document the practices for which CA is responsible, including the pre- and post-experience that enables skill gain to be measured, as well as the amount of wages generated through the brokering work of the initiative that results in quality work-based learning.

Each of the state’s sixteen WDB regions is actively involved in CA. All of the regions pursue a range of strategies that offer career development education and work-based learning opportunities to the students of their partner schools. All of the regions broker large numbers of placements at employer work sites, and document those placements in the Connecting Activities database. Additionally, all regions record the range of other career development education activities they lead in the CA database.

The regions have also developed effective ways to leverage the resources from CA funding in combination with other local resources, in order to offer youth in their region multiple opportunities to become both college and career ready. ESE is not prescriptive about the service delivery models to be used to achieve the expectations of the initiative, encouraging and supporting a range of approaches. The CA resource are deployed locally to pay for staff at WDBs, school districts, chambers, One Stop Career Centers, community colleges and community-based organizations. These staff support the student preparation and employer engagement needed for CA. The resources also cover some of the costs of services for students, most notably the ever-increasing cost of transportation of students for field trips and other events.
The remainder of this report presents highlights of each region’s recent achievements and activities, to give a sense of the depth and breadth of the CA work across the state. These selections do not purport to represent all of the critical CA work being done by each region; instead they offer only a sample. Readers are encouraged to visit each WDB’s website for more information about their supports for youth and their CA work.
A student is profiled for each region, and these stories bring the CA initiative to life. The internships and career exploration offered to these students by the region’s CA initiatives have guided them to important life choices for post-secondary education and career. Their stories illustrate the power of Connecting Activities; these were transformative experiences that have had a major impact on these students’ plans for their lives after high school. The sixteen students profiled here serve as excellent representatives of the thousands of other students benefitting from CA, whose stories are too numerous to tell. These are the faces of Connecting Activities for FY15.

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