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Spotlight On: Job Shadowing

February 21, 2020 09:00 AM

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The first time Julie Berry hosted a Greensburg Salem High School student for a job shadow, it was a learning experience for both of them. An accountant at Wilder & Co., she gave the teen an overview of her job, a tour of her office and a rundown of the career opportunities available in accounting. For the rest of the day, the student "watched me work," she said. "Afterward, I thought to myself, I'd really hate that if it were me."

Berry has since hosted other students and found ways to enliven the visits. Her experience may be of use to other professionals and businesses that can anticipate more requests for job shadows as schools try to achieve new state standards in career education. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) classifies job shadows as one of seven options for meeting "work-based learning" requirements. 

"I've tried to make my visits more hands-on," Berry said in an interview, adding that she might assign some spreadsheet tasks, for example, or work with the student on a payroll run to show what comes off the top of a paycheck before an employee takes it home.

Among other tips, she said, "Just be yourself and think about what would have helped you when you were trying to decide on a career." 

There's no single formula for structuring a job shadow. But along with Berry's advice there are plenty of commonly used strategies for hostin​g.  

A digital wall listing jobs with shadows cast upon it.  

Additionally, for prospective hosts, PDE publishes a guide called Job Shadowing for Employers. Hosts also may find useful tips in the Work-Based Learning Toolkit that PDE publishes primarily for educators and in the Kentucky Office of Career & Technical Education's Work-Based Learning Manual, whose practices PDE recommends.

For their part, schools are expected to provide the academic context for job shadowing, said Greensburg Salem's Coordinator of Secondary Education, Ken Bissell, Ed.D. To qualify job shadows as work-based learning experiences, the state requires that schools ensure they are:

  • Guided by a teacher or other advisor
  • Connected to curriculum so that they're an extension of the student's learning
  • Following a learning process that includes pre-experience documentation, documentation during the experience, and post-experience documentation

PDE also directs districts serving high-poverty communities to help students identify job shadowing opportunities in fields that interest them. 

Greensburg Salem provides that support. "A good number of our students just don't have the social capital" to make their own connections through family and friends as students from more affluent districts might, Bissell said. Nonetheless, students themselves still must follow through by phoning or emailing to set up their visits, he added. "It's an important part of the learning experience."

Students often find job shadows invaluable for exploring careers. For example, Collin, a senior at Greensburg Salem High School said a job shadow at Greensburg-based Moore & Morford, helped him find out "how many moving parts there are" even in a small engineering firm. Among other things, he was interested to see that professionals may be using 50 different drawings concurrently to bring various aspects of a project to completion.

"Going there opened my eyes to what engineering is," he said. "I thought I was interested, but I really didn't know what it was like."

This blog post was created by and shared with permission from the Consortium for Public Education.

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