Career Classroom: Work-based learning helps employers — and students

The countdown is on for the start of school. Parents and students are no doubt aware of the timeline, but employers across the state are becoming increasingly attuned to it, as well. Many are eager to once again welcome students from New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools for work-based learning opportunities that benefit all involved.

“One of the biggest values I find as a business owner is the fact that a different perspective comes in the door,” said Emiliano Pares, owner of BB Props in Little Falls. “When you get a student, sometimes they can approach something like a 3D printer or some of the computer programming we have to do with a fresh set of eyes, as opposed to some of the individuals, like myself, who have been doing this awhile.”

Over the past few years, Pares has been welcoming students from both Bergen County Technical Schools and Passaic County Technical-Vocational Schools into his growing fabrication shop that supports film, television and theatrical productions. He said the partnerships with the schools initially formed because students took the initiative to connect him with their schools in hopes they could fulfill work-based learning requirements at BB Props.

Isaac Pierce, a recent graduate from Bergen County Technical High School, was one of BB Props’ most recent interns. He said that, as an aerospace engineering student, he found an internship with BB Props appealing because it promised “hands-on” learning. He was eager to use the tools he had access to in his school’s shop in a workplace setting.

“Here, I’ve done whatever they need me to do,” Pierce said. “I’ve painted, cleaned, used hand tools to build small scenery …”

But, Pierce said the professional skills he has acquired are just as valuable as the technical skills.

“You learn how to lead yourself,” he said, noting this is invaluable preparation for the next steps in his life.

Pares said the “level of listening” the students bring to the table makes them “sponges for knowledge” and aids in their quick transition from onboarding to making meaningful contributions to his business.

John Prosseda, owner of J&S Fencing, which serves the Greater Philadelphia region, said employee Chase Brayerton began working for him while enrolled in the construction technology program at Salem County Vocational Technical School District. That work-based learning placement quickly became a win-win for both Prosseda and Brayerton.

“We were able to start a landscaping division this summer,” Prosseda said. “We could do that because of Chase’s skillset.”

Chase Brayerton first began working for J & S Fencing while attending Salem County Vocational Technical School District. That work-based learning experience put him on the fast track to becoming a full-time employee.

He explained that his young employee is now the foreman over the new landscaping division. He manages three people to oversee 13 corporate sites and three residential sites with additional mulching, cleanup and planting projects consistently scheduled.

Prosseda said his experience working with Brayerton has inspired him to maintain a connection with the technical school to potentially hire additional students who can bring new skills and an enthusiasm to kickstart their careers.

“The possibilities are endless,” Prosseda said. “We could continue to grow with the different qualities this next generation has; maybe there’s an irrigation specialist or a mechanic we can bring on who can develop with us, while also helping us evolve.”

Brayerton said Prosseda has provided him with the tools to succeed in his current role. His boss has demonstrated how to price out jobs to write competitive, but profitable bids and modeled how to be a professional among colleagues and homeowners.

“I wouldn’t have gotten that elsewhere,” Brayerton said of his early on-the-job experience and exposure to such a powerful mentor.

Mary Hammond, a work-based learning coordinator with Morris County Vocational School District, said the county vocational-technical schools either require or encourage work-based learning to help students get this early start on career exploration and preparation. She said individuals like her work in-district to help prepare students and ensure they add value to their employer. She has worked with students on resumes, interviews and meeting employer expectations.

“We have a lot of our internship sites that hire our students,” she said. “They will bring them back into the organization when they are home from college, and that shows we are providing great quality students, because they want them back.”

Jan Bednar, chief nursing officer for St. Clare’s Health in Denville, said she sees the health care system “planting seeds with the students” who shadow and intern there for future employment.

“Several have come back to do internships on their own, but I also hope they come back to work here,” she said of the MCVSD student workers. “That’s my goal.”

Conversation Starters

  • Reach Bergen County Technical Schools at: or call 201-343-6000.
  • Reach Passaic County Technical-Vocational Schools at: or call 973-790-6000.
  • Reach Salem County Vocational Technical School District at: or call 856-769-0101.
  • Employers can learn more and express interest in partnering with county vocational-technical schools at:

This series on education and industry is presented by the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.