Workplace Challenge Guide

This guide is designed to help develop Workplace Challenges that work for youth and young adults, host employers and organizations, and Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) programs. It is part of the DYCD Work-Based Learning Toolkit, which provides proven approaches and strategies to create high-quality, safe and legal Work-Based Learning experiences for youth and young adults enrolled in the Summer Youth Employment Program in New York City.

Workplace Challenge Overview

A Workplace Challenge is a Career Preparation activity where small groups of youth and young adults (four to six per team) are engaged in solving a problem or a challenge issued by a company or organization in consultation with program staff. The structure of the challenge is based upon effective project-based learning approaches, enhanced by a focus on the targeted Career Pathway and an authentic problem or issue faced by an employer or organization partner. The youth and young adults are engaged in career-focused, project-based learning and work as a team over time to identify possible solutions. They then create and deliver a presentation on their solution to the employer or organization.

Developing the Challenge

The challenge or problem is initially identified by the employer or organization collaborating with a youth program representative (usually a trainer or instructor). Typically, the employer or organization will present a number of possible problems or issues that might constitute the challenge and work with a youth program instructor who helps select and develop a challenge that is a good fit with the current focus in classroom training or workshops. Selection will also reflect the interests of participating youth and young adults and the availability of resources to support addressing the challenge.

The Workplace Challenge Process

The challenge itself is most effective if delivered by an employer or organization staff member (ideally at the workplace) to a group of youth and young adults who are familiar with the industry and ideally the particular employer or organization, through exposures in the classroom or during workshop activities, or the workplace. Youth and young adults then work together over six to eight weeks to address the challenge in the classroom or program site, supported by instructors or program staff and in some cases the employer or organization (one or two formal touch points between the youth or young adult and a designated representative of the employer or organization sometimes take place). At the completion of the challenge, team members provide a presentation on their solution to the employer or organization or a group of employees (again ideally at the worksite), engage in dialogue and receive feedback on their approach. While bookending the challenge with visits to the company or organization’s workplace is desirable, care should be taken to minimize the impact on small- to medium-sized businesses and organizations.

Workplace Challenge Enhancements

Workplace Challenges are powerful experiences for youth and young adults, program staff and employer and organization partners. Within the basic framework of the challenge, the Summer Youth Employment Program staff and their partners are encouraged to be creative in designing challenges that include activities and approaches to enhance the value of the experience, and integrate challenges into the curriculum or training design of the Career Pathway program overall.

Some enhancements to consider include the following:

  • Have several teams of youth and young adults address the same challenge and reward the most innovative solutions through a competition—with the employer or organization or a team of employers and organizations serving as the judge(s).
  • After the presentation of the solution and critique by the employer or organization partner, have the team(s) revisit their approach, define a new solution and present it to the employer or organization partner(s).
  • Sequence a series of challenges for the same team of youth and young adults so that the experiences build on one another.
  • Model aspects of the challenge after reality TV shows such as “Shark Tank” (with the youth and young adults pitching their solutions to a group of employers/organizations).
  • Have the challenge flow into an Internship for successful youth and young adults.
  • If the time and intensity of the Workplace Challenge described here is difficult to apply in your program model, consider a “Workplace Challenge Lite.” Maintain the key components of the challenge (employer or organization issues a real-world challenge, youth and young adults work together to define a solution and present to the employer or organization) but identify a simpler problem with the employer or organization that a small group of youth and young adults might define over a single two- or three-hour session.
Benefits for Youth and Young Adults

Workplace Challenges are designed to promote:

  • The opportunity to develop, practice and demonstrate new skills, including the following: — Identified academic, technical and occupational skills — Problem solving and research skills — Presentation skills — Teamwork skills
  • The opportunity to explore and practice in a field of interest.
  • Exposure to jobs, careers and working adult.
  • The opportunity to enhance the relevance of academic instruction through the application of applied knowledge.
The Importance of Structured Activity

Effective Workplace Challenges include structured activity before, during and after the experience. These activities help ensure that all involved parties have meaningful, productive experiences that result in enriched youth and young adult learning. Proper planning and preparation, attention to legal and safety details, maximization of learning potential, and communication and support for the youth or young adult and employer or organization will help ensure success.

Sustaining and growing Internships and all other Work-Based Learning types depend upon developing and maintaining positive relationships with the employers and organizations that are providing opportunities to the youth and young adults being served. These employers and organizations should be treated as valued customers and partners with frequent check-ins to address participation needs as they arise.

Workplace Challenge Tools

Tip sheets and checklists for program staff, employer or organization partners, and youth and young adults are provided in this toolkit to help design, structure and support Workplace Challenges to maximize learning. Each tip sheet supplements the Work-Based Learning essential elements described in this toolkit, and provides a set of success factors and lists of activities or tasks to perform before, during and after the experience. A fact sheet for prospective employers is also provided. Note: These tools and materials are available in Word format to allow for programs to brand appropriately and include contact information.

In this Tool Packet:
Program Staff Tip Sheet: Workplace Challenge Success Factors A checklist and tip sheet for Summer Youth Employment Program staff
Youth/Young Adult Tip Sheet: Workplace Challenge Success Factors Tips for youth and young adults participating in the challenge
Challenge Host Tip Sheet: Workplace Challenge Success Factors Tips for participating Workplace Challenge hosts
Employer Fact Sheet: Workplace Challenge A fact sheet for employers that describes what’s involved in a company sponsoring a Workplace Challenge

New York City Youth and Young Adult Career Pathways