Cover: Preparing New York City High School Students for the Workforce

Preparing New York City High School Students for the Workforce

Evaluation of the Scholars at Work Program

Published Mar 28, 2019

by Robert Bozick, Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Serafina Lanna, Monica Mean

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent are the activities and processes of the Scholars at Work program functioning as anticipated by those who designed and implemented the program?
  2. How well are Scholars at Work participants faring in the labor market, compared with analogous New York City public school graduates?

In 2009, the New York City Department of Small Business Services and Department of Education created Scholars at Work (SAW), a program available to high school seniors enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at city high schools that opted to participate. Implementation of SAW was the responsibility of Workforce1 Industrial & Transportation Career (ITC) Centers. The goal of SAW is to expose students to career opportunities, to provide them with real-life work experience alongside adults, and to develop their workplace skills. SAW has two core components, each a semester in length: a career exploration module and an internship that places high school seniors with employers. In career exploration, students engage in activities in a classroom setting designed to develop their soft skills and workplace competencies while learning about career opportunities through visits from industry experts. In the internship module, students participate in a paid, after-school internship at a local business for approximately 13 weeks.

Prepared in response to a 2016 request by the New York City Mayor's Office for Economic Opportunity, this report presents the findings of an external evaluation of the SAW program — in particular, how well it is preparing students for employment and postsecondary education. Researchers conducted an implementation study that examined and described SAW's activities and processes to understand the extent to which they function as the designers and implementers of the program intended. They also conducted an outcomes study to analyze how SAW participants are faring in the labor market, compared with similar graduates of New York City public schools.

Key Findings

The SAW program has shown considerable strengths in its principal aims

  • Employers reported that the internship program provided a good opportunity for students to be exposed to work environment and was helpful in honing students' career aspirations.
  • Businesses reported being pleased with the availability and quality of needed labor and that the program supported the pipeline of talent.
  • The program built useful relationships between participating schools and local employers.

Certain areas for improvement were noted

  • The program's lack of guidance and training in mentorship resulted in considerable variation in internship experience.
  • Some program stakeholders expressed dissatisfaction with the clarity of the purpose and target audience of the program.
  • The program's system of communication among participants had important gaps.

An outcomes analysis of the program, analyzing enrollment in postsecondary education, employment status, and earnings, found some significant benefits of the program

  • Participating in SAW does not improve the probability that students will enroll in college or find a job immediately after high school, but students are more likely to find jobs in SAW's focal industries, manufacturing and transportation.
  • Those who did participate were more likely to find jobs in SAW's focal industries of manufacturing and transportation.
  • There is suggestive evidence that SAW improves earnings after participants graduate from high school.


  • The SAW program represents a useful way of introducing students to the workplace, but there are some significant areas for improvement.
  • The matching process for student internships could be improved, providing a better "fit" between employers and interns. The placement process could better align students' goals with employers' need or the pool of talent, and the slate of employers could be broadened so that more placement opportunities are available.
  • A clearer presentation of the program's goals and mission is required, which would improve how policies, structures, and services are developed and implemented.
  • Communication between stakeholders in the program could be improved. More constructive and open conversations about the challenges and successes of the program are needed.
  • Better training and guidance for mentorship would reduce the variation in quality across employers. Employer mentors need to know more about the skills and coursework that students had pursued before the internship, and there needs to be a more standardized approach to assigning tasks to interns.
  • More work is required to build relationships between K–12 education and industry so that students receive the most up-to-date skills training.
  • Internal monitoring could be improved to better measure and track SAW goals. A more accurate process is needed to track students' decisionmaking regarding college and careers.
  • More consistent use should be made of the training plan that SAW participants prepare, to provide more information concerning students' decisionmaking about career and college aspirations. A clearer use of the plans would provide better measures of outcomes.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded by the NYC Mayor's Office for Economic Opportunity and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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