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Career awareness and exploration are important for youth as they prepare to enter the workforce. In New Jersey, youth are able to participate in school-sponsored Structured Learning Experiences (SLE), defined by New Jersey Administrative Code as supervised educational activities designed to expose students to requirements and responsibilities of specific jobs, and assist them in gaining employment skills and making career and educational decisions. SLEs can be paid or unpaid. SLEs include internships, job shadowing, apprenticeships and cooperative education.

Young workers are at an increased risk of workplace injury because of their inexperience, their desire to do a good job and meet expectations of employers, and a lack of awareness of child labor laws. Young people are injured in workplaces at a higher rate than adults. Tragically, a 15-year old from New Jersey was killed when he became caught in a pizza dough mixer even though minors are prohibited from operating such machines and other powered equipment and tools. Thus, young people must be informed how specific laws exist to protect them from doing dangerous work. They should be trained to identify hazards and encouraged to speak up if they encounter problems in the workplace.

Workplace safety and health training is mandated for teachers in New Jersey who supervise youth in school-sponsored work environments. The New Jersey Safe Schools Program (NJSS) at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey-School of Public Health and the New Jersey Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Alliance coordinate a novel safetynd health training curriculum for secondary school career and technical education (CTE) teachers and administrators related to young workers. In New Jersey, more than 1,300 SLE supervisors (teachers and administrators) have been trained to date.

SLE supervisors must inspect worksites where students will be placed for safety and health hazards. They must visit student worksites once every tenth day the student reports to the worksites to continuously ensure safe work environments. As a school board member, you may want to find out if your district has adequate resources to train the appropriate number of SLE supervisors to meet the needs of students who wish to participate in approved SLE programs.

NJSS conducted a survey with SLE supervisors who completed the training curriculum through April 2012. The primary objective was to assess whether SLE supervisors are incorporating the knowledge, skills and awareness regarding hazards, laws and regulations gained through our curriculum. The statewide response rate was 33.5 percent.

Overall, those trained expressed a high rating of their ability to handle safety and health concerns in classrooms or worksites and also expressed high levels of knowledge, skills and awareness gained. Also, 50 percent of respondents observed positive changes in student behavior or employer responses to safety and health concerns. In addition, two out of three respondents reported sharing the information learned from the SLE curriculum with others. Over 90 percent of respondents stated the curriculum was useful in preparing them to address the safety and health needs of students at school and work. A large response rate statewide strengthened these findings.

Participants recommended increasing networking opportunities among SLE supervisors both within and between districts and schools to share best practices. They expressed a need for greater understanding of safety and health and SLE program requirements by employers and non-SLE teachers, staff, and administrators.

Here are some ideas to bring to your district’s schools to increase awareness:

  • Propose current SLE supervisors provide training on the SLE program and requirements, including workplace safety and health concerns. Cover district-specific successes and challenges highlighting ideas for collaboration between SLE and non-SLE staff.
  • NJSS developed a “SLE Refresher Course” for SLE supervisors. This course would be appropriate for any staff (SLE/non-SLE) to learn more about the program and current requirements. NJSS encourages them to take this course.

Survey results helped NJSS optimize future training programs with the ultimate goal of protecting young workers entering the workforce for the first time. To learn more about NJSS, please visit our website at www.njsafeschools.org.

Amy G. Lewis is a health educator with New Jersey Safe Schools Program at Rutgers School of Public Health. Sarah W. Kelly is program coordinator and Derek G. Shendell is program director of the New Jersey Safe Schools Program.