What is job shadowing? Why is it important? How does it work in our high school program? This article answers these three questions and shares the “why” behind our career shadowing program. You’ll also find three surprising benefits for high school students who undergo job shadowing experiences.

What is job shadowing?

Job shadowing is when a student or young professional shadows, or follows, an industry expert in a particular field. At Learnwell, our ninth grade students start by identifying four career fields that interest them.

With the help of their life skills teacher(s), students take an inventory to help them discover what careers may suit their gifts and how they’re wired. One of our emphases throughout the K-12 educational scope is to expose students to who they are as created by a loving God. This includes what interests them, what they’re passionate about, and how those intersect with their goals and motivations as they get older.

Job shadowing helps students begin to think ahead about where they may want to develop loose goals related to fields of study or work after high school. Do we expect students to graduate knowing exactly what their next 10 years will look like and where they will specialize their career training? No. But our job shadowing program helps students begin to think about their future.

Why is career shadowing important?

Aside from the obvious, thinking ahead, students shadow in four careers on purpose at Learnwell. You may wonder about some of the details related to our job shadowing program.

  • Why are there four experiences?
  • Why do students follow an industry professional around, and what are the safety guidelines associated with that?
  • Are there any exceptions to shadowing career professionals in industries where shadowing isn’t possible?

The answers to these questions help to explain why career shadowing is valuable. First, we require ninth grade students to do four separate job shadowing experiences so that they get to “taste and see” four different industries. If a student thinks he is going to be an engineer, it would be helpful for him to shadow different kinds of engineers. Or if a student wants to pursue fashion, she may want to shadow someone in the design side of the industry as well as the merchandising and fashion marketing side of the industry. (Surprise No. 1: Your student may enjoy a field that he or she never expected to like.)

Essentially, job shadowing gives students a realistic picture of what goes on in a given career. Will it show them everything in a few hours? No, but they will have an introduction to some of the tasks they many not have thought about that are related to the career. (Surprise No. 2: Your student may discover that, while fun, a merchandiser’s job isn’t simply to style models and mannequins all day. A merchandiser also needs to analyze customer sales to predict what they need — before the competitor.)

Students can follow an industry professional as they go about their daily tasks, and parents are encouraged to stay at the office or place of business for safety reasons. We also require the job shadowing mentor to read and sign paperwork that outlines what is allowed, how to conduct the job shadowing experience and how to adhere to safety protocol while the student is in attendance. Safety is our highest priority during the job shadowing experience, and it is a key component of what the mentor agrees to uphold.

What if a job shadowing experience isn’t beneficial or possible? How does a student learn about a career such as a movie stunt professional when it would not be feasible to go on set? In some cases, students can interview the professional to learn more about their field and what a day-to-day experience in that industry looks like. (Surprise No. 3: Your student may learn more from an interview than a shadow experience in certain industries.)

How does career shadowing work at Learnwell?

Parents, students, school staff members, and job shadowing mentors collaborate to identify:

  • A professional in the student’s field of interest or an adjacent field of interest
  • A time and place where students will either complete an industry interview or a half-day job shadowing experience.
  • What parameters and limitations are involved in the shadow experience (This may include everything from student safety protocol to company guidelines.)
  • Students finalize and conduct their shadow and/or interview experience with a mentor.
  • Students write a reflection essay related to what they learned and how it applies to their field of interest.

These are the minimum requirements for job shadowing experiences at Learnwell, and they can change as the teacher and students assess what’s needed throughout the year. Ultimately, students work in groups and one-on-one with their life skills teacher to create individualized plans for on-the-job learning and discovery that is meaningful and aligns with each student’s wiring.

Are you looking for a more flexible education for your middle or high school student — one that dives deeply into areas of interest related to your child? We would love to meet you! Join us at our next parent information night, Discover Learnwell.