Career Development Experience Toolkit

Released in 2019, the Career Development Experience Toolkit adheres to the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act’s framework for College and Career Pathway Endorsements (CCPE). While these materials adhere to the CCPE framework for high school students, they serve any organization seeking to provide youth with rigorous work-based learning opportunities. In 2021, EdSystems released a Companion Piece to provide resources to address the needs of stakeholders outside of a traditional high school setting. In 2022, the team released a Facilitation Guide.

Implementation of the toolkit and its accompanying resources should be done with careful consideration of your participants. The practices listed are not exhaustive and are meant to be adaptable to fit the needs of your community.

Toolkit Primary Purposes

Establish Expectations

Establish expectations for implementing high-quality, rigorous work-based learning experiences that prepare young people to be college and career ready through the development of essential, entrepreneurial and technical employability skills.

Provide Guidance

Provide guidance, tools, and frameworks to offer a career development experience, which is a required component of the College and Career Pathway Endorsement framework and in the State’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a College and Career Readiness Indicator.

Highlight Best Practices

Highlight best practice examples of how organizations are accomplishing this on-the-ground and spark thinking for other communities about how these examples might be modified to fit into their own unique contexts

What is a Career Development Experience?

A supervised work experience relating to an individual’s career area of interest that:

  1. Occurs in a workplace or under authentic working conditions;
  2. Is co-developed by an education provider and at least one employer in the relevant field;
  3. Provides compensation OR educational credit to the participant (or both);
  4. Reinforces foundational professional skills including, at a minimum, those outlined in the Essential Employability Skills framework;
  5. Includes a professional skills assessment of skill development and is utilized as a participant feedback tool; and
  6. Takes place for a minimum of 60 total cumulative hours.

Toolkit Terminology


The individual who will participate in the CDE: high school student, opportunity youth, participant in a non-profit/community-based youth development program, etc.

Managing Organization

Lead entity working to organize and coordinate the delivery of CDEs to participants: school, non-profit or community-based organization, chamber of commerce, other public/private institutions, religious organization, etc. May also be a convening organization or intermediary in a community.


Typically thought of as the employer, the company or organization providing the workplace or authentic working conditions for a participant to complete their CDE.

The List of 'Whys'


Why should participants complete a career development experience?

  • Engage in authentic, hands-on tasks related to their career interest area
  • Receive one-on-one mentorship and guidance from industry experts
  • Discover the various pathways and requirements to obtain employment in their career interest area
  • Determine whether their career interest area is a good fit for them (a successful CDE also includes those that redirects a Participant’s career pathway!)
  • Develop a network of professionals and industry experts that can lead to accessing future opportunities

Why should hosts provide a career development experience?

  • Provide training and support tailored to their workforce needs to build highly skilled individuals
  • Gain new perspectives and insights on current practices from an individual who has typically completed work-based learning in other related industry area spaces beforehand
  • Enhance or develop a collaborative relationship with managing organizations to ensure that systems and needs are aligned
  • Influence the pathways of individuals interested in pursuing careers in their industry
  • Serve as a steward for continued economic growth and access to opportunities for meaningful employment in their region

Essential Components


Planning the CDE

Host Outreach
  • Recruit and secure host sites for participant CDE placements
  • Collect information on host sites and determine capacity for offering CDEs
  • Train organizational staff as needed if participants are completing CDE in-house
Participant Onboarding
  • Complete any needed pre-assessments to determine participant readiness and any unique needs or accommodations
  • Collect participant interest and permission forms to determine placement site and approval to participate
  • Prepare participants for a professional environment through training and resource
Host Onboarding
  • Review and confirm expectations for host responsibilities and experience for participants
  • Determine any specific onboarding needs for participants to complete before their first day
  • Establish your organization as a support and resource provider throughout the CDE process
  • Develop professional skills assessment(s) relevant to current CDE offerings for participants
  • Determine a timeline and process for collecting host and participant feedback (site visits, surveys, phone calls, etc)
  • Prepare a plan and resources for situations in which hosts and/or participants may experience challenges
Wrapping Up
  • Determine how these data and information will be collected and where it will be housed within your organization
  • Outline the process and provide any necessary materials for participants and hosts to complete to close out the CDE

Access & Equity

For an extended list of considerations, please refer to the CDE Toolkit Companion Piece.

Location of CDEs
  • Are they strategically located to provide a variety of accessible sites for all participants?
  • How will participants be supported to meet the transportations needs of getting to host site?
Access to Information
  • Have all participants been provided the same information and options regarding CDE opportunities?
  • How and where is information being delivered so that all potential participants are aware of CDEs?
Supports to Succeed
  • What tailored supports are available for each special group represented by participants?
  • How are participants assessed to determine any specific needs and/or supports to complete the CDE?

Models for Implementation

Models may include any of the following examples:

  • Internship
  • School-based enterprise
  • Supervised agricultural experience
  • Cooperative education
  • Research-based internship
  • Remote work for a client or employer
  • Student-led enterprise
  • Youth apprenticeship

Equity Considerations

Explore barriers to minority participation and potential solutions.

  • Does your CDE structure make it impossible for some students to participate?
  • Does your scheduling create limitations for participants?
  • Does your transportation plan limit any students from participating?
  • Are you able to offer CDEs during regular school hours for students that have competing priorities (i.e. jobs, family commitments, etc.) outside of school?

CDE Online Toolkit Resources

  1. Template | Planning Timeline: PDF // Word
  2. Resource | Racial Equity Impact Assessment from Race Forward
  3. Resource | Engaging Diverse Populations from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  1. Exemplar | “Making Youth Apprenticeships Work for Illinois’ Young Adults” from Young Invincibles
  2. Exemplar | Guidebook of Professional Learning Experiences within Information Technology from Illinois Science and Technology Coalition
  3. Exemplar | Apprenticeship Framework from District 214
  4. Exemplar | SAE for All Student Guide from Supervised Agricultural Experience
  5. Exemplar | SAE for All Teacher’s Guide from Supervised Agricultural Experience

Staffing Considerations



  • Form a cohort of participants
  • Determine needs of participants:
    • Supports / accommodations
    • Competency mastery levels
    • Pathway / career interests


  • Present the CDE program and establish expectations
  • Initial site assessment to determine capability of offering CDE


  • Complete any required forms and/or HR procedures as required by host
  • Set professional expectations through pre-CDE training


  • Review CDE agreement
  • Train any Host staff working directly with participant(s)
  • Identify any HR requirements for participants


  • Monitor and assess growth in essential employability and technical competencies
  • Troubleshoot any issues/concerns
  • Participate in site visit


  • Ensure meeting expectations of CDE and participant supports
  • Troubleshoot any challenges
  • Participate in site visits

Staff Professional Development

Learning Like a Participant
  • Working with local community colleges to engage directly in technical competencies through courses or workshops
  • Attending employer or community sponsored activities to gain a deeper understanding of a particular industry area
  • Engaging with curriculum and outreach materials developed by hosts for their work-based learning programs
  • Taking a tour of hosts’ sites and participating in conversations with host employees to see what it is like to work there
Preparing Participants
  • Determining how they model and reflect essential employability competencies to participants
  • Participating in workshops and training with local community organizations in workforce development

Deepening Host Engagement & Leadership

Ultimately, a CDE should reinforce that a host is taking on a larger role in the growth and development of essential and technical employability competencies for participants along the continuum of work-based learning experiences. Your organization and its host partners need to develop strong trusting relationships to collaborate and ensure the preparedness and subsequent competency development of participants in their CDE. The larger role of a host shifts away from the traditional model of learning and actively engages participants in the professional world. Hosts take on a vital role of supporting participant learning through doing rather than studying. In the case of the CDE, hosts become the main individuals responsible for coaching and assessing participant performance.

Transportation: Planning with Participants

Access to transportation can be a major barrier and a source of stress for participants. Sometimes there are opportunities they are not aware of or unsure of how to access. Managing organizations need to work closely with participants to resolve any transportation issues or concerns. It is important for managing organizations to develop a transportation plan with participants that is consistent and reliable to ensure strong attendance at their CDE. Make sure participants also have a back-up plan in place and are aware of who to contact in the event of any transportation issues.

Determining What to Measure

Hosts Only


  • Outreach efforts
  • Communication records
  • Profiles/questionnaires


  • Ensure meeting expectations of CDE and participant supports
  • Troubleshoot any challenges
  • Perform site visits 
Participants Only


  • Pre-assessments
  • Career surveys
  • How CDE informed career/pathway


  • Number of placements/retention
  • Attendance/# hours completed
  • Endorsement area completing CDE for
  • Industry-recognized certifications earned
Hosts & Participants


  • Professional skills assessments
  • Feedback on CDE
  • Tracking of successes and challenges


  • Professional skills assessments

Legal Considerations

Hosting Youth at CDE Site
  • Do hosts have any internal policies beyond child labor laws regarding the tasks youth can participate in on site?
  • Are there any organizational policies for employer and participant communication?
  • Are there any waivers that participants and/or parent/guardians need to sign?
  • What is the protocol if participants need to travel off-site with their hosts for a related CDE activity?
HR Forms / Training
  • Are there any HR requirements a participant has to complete (background checks, health screenings, fingerprinting, etc.)?
  • Any organizational policies regarding background checks for anyone working directly with a participant?

CDE Online Toolkit Resources

  1. Exemplar | Health Occupations and Professions Exploration (HOPE) Program from UW Health
  2. Resource | Post-Secondary Counseling Working Group Counselor Skills and Competencies Recommendations from Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance
  3. Resource Bank | Motivational Interviewing for Schools
  4. Resource Bank | Community Resources from Workforce GPS
  5. Resource Bank | Global Partner Tools from Illinois workNet
  1. Template | Pre-Assessment Participant Interview: PDF // Word
  2. Resource | Rethink CTE: Fact Sheet from Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Community College Board
  3. Resource | The Importance of Disaggregating Student Data from Safe Schools Healthy Students
  4. Resource | Roadmap to Success: Rural Transportation Connections from the National Farmworker Jobs Program
  5. Article | “Ways of Getting to Work” from Illinois workNet
  6. Website | The Agriculture Experience Tracker (AET)

Staffing Considerations

Depending on the context and needs of hosts, there may be multiple angles to recruit Hosts to support your CDE program. Initially, consider the hosts with whom you have existing relationships:

  • Are there any hosts or even individual employees of a host who have expressed interest in being more involved with participants?
  • Consider your own staff as well – have any of them expressed interest in working more directly with participants for an in-house CDE?
  • Which hosts are working well with your participants and providing intentional supports and guidance within the currently operating work-based learning experiences?

Making the Ask

Before you make your formal request of them, have the following information prepared:
Host Expectations
  • Outline of roles and responsibilities
  • Timeline of the CDE program
  • Activities expected to complete (site visits, assessments, etc)
  • Background on the youth your organization serves
  • Qualities and strengths of participants
  • Typical areas of growth and development
Preparing Participants
  • Determining how they model and reflect essential employability competencies to participants
  • Participating in workshops and training with local community organizations in workforce development

Host Not Ready to Offer a CDE?

If a Host has been assessed and is missing some key components to providing a quality CDE, consider how you can sustain your partnership and engage them in other opportunities to build towards offering a CDE:

  • Site visits
  • Career fair
  • Guest speaking
  • Job shadow
  • Mock interviews

Equity Considerations

Consider hosts that may be able to provide payment to participants and/or are able and willing to provide CDE opportunities embedded within school hours. This could prove beneficial for students with existing part-time jobs or other commitments that may hinder them from engaging in a CDE. 

See the Equity in Career Development Experiences section in the CDE Companion Piece to learn more.

CDE Online Toolkit Resources

  1. Exemplar | Early College STEM Schools “Hire an Intern” Flyer from Chicago Public Schools
  2. Exemplar | Pathway Sponsorship Program from Alignment Rockford
  3. Template | Host Site Request Email: PDF // Word
  4. Template | Prep to Elevator Pitch from Tennessee Department of Education
  5. Resource | Pathways to Prosperity: What Employers Need to Know from JFF
  6. Resource | Employer Outreach and Marketing from Illinois workNet
  1. Template | Host Profile: PDF // Word
  2. Template | Host Site Assessment: PDF // Word
  3. Resource | Worksite Placement Tool from Illinois workNet

Onboarding for Participants

Participants can demonstrate readiness in several ways, including:


CDE Placement

Along with considering the career interests of participants, it is also important to consider the type of environment and supports that best match a participant’s characteristics and needs. Matching participants to the ideal placement may require some flexibility – in some cases, hosts outside of the participant’s career interest area may be a better fit. Ultimately, what is most important is that the host is able to provide an authentic learning experience in which the participant develops the essential employability and technical competencies necessary for their career.

Community Examples of Pre-CDE Training


Career Ready Boot Camp

Through their Career Center for Discovery, District 214 developed digital modules on their learning management system for students to complete prior to participation in a CDE. In-person workshop sessions are available for those participants in need of more direct guidance.

vermilion county works logo

Youth Program Services

Vermilion County Works (VCW) operates several special training programs for youth ages 16–24. VCW contracts with youth-serving agencies to provide pre-employment skills training prior to youth being placed in work experience, limited internships, or employment with local employers.

rush education and career hub reach logo

Rush - REACH

REACH has career readiness workshops in partner schools for interested applicants to the internship program. Students are able to participate in resume writing, interview prep, and networking events to strengthen their readiness for the work world.

Getting Participants Ready

Before participants start at their Host site, they should complete the following activities:
Host Research
  • Learn some general background about their host, through desk research and/or host information submitted to your organization
Getting to the CDE
  • Plan for the logistics of getting to/from their CDE, mapping out their route as needed
  • Practice their commute before their first day to proactively address any confusion regarding their route
CDE Placement Requirements
  • Participate in any required background or screening processes
  • Identify any challenges that might impact the start date
Onboarding for Hosts
As you are working with a host to determine who will be the main point of contact for the participant at a CDE site have an intentional conversation about the host staff’s role as a mentor for participants. This person should be responsible for the assigning and training of tasks, with an understanding they are also a coach for a developing young professional. It might be best to have two different assigned staff for participants: one who assigns and trains on the tasks and another who can serve as a mentor removed from the daily work to chat through how things are going.

Refer to the Essential Employability and Technical Competencies as outlined in the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act to enhance your participant preparation activities. These competencies serve as quality indicators of an individual’s readiness to enter an industry or to pursue further education in that field. These competencies were developed in consultation with state agencies and key industry experts including hiring professionals, education and training professionals, and industry associations.

Developing a Plan for Participants

Along with providing clear expectations and information about your CDE program, collaborate with your hosts to determine a plan for working with participants. Hosts should consider:

CDE Program Basics
  • The day-to-day tasks or projects a participant can contribute to
  • Learning objectives and goals for participants as well as essential related employability and technical competencies
Internal Leadership
  • Departments that are in need of utilizing and managing a participant
  • Assigned host staff who will provide ongoing supervision and support for participant
  • The flow of communication within a Host to contact your organization as needed
  • Directives for participants if they are working in multiple departments/staff

Components of Creating a Youth-Friendly Workplace

Equity Considerations

Some participants may not have a government-issued ID or bank account, which may limit them from participating if this is a requirement by the host. How can your managing organization alleviate this barrier of access?

CDE Online Toolkit Resources

Onboarding for Participants
  1. Template | Participant Profile: PDF // Word
  2. Template | Pre-Assessment Participant Interview: PDF // Word
  3. Template | Participant Placement Email/Letter: PDF // Word
  4. Template | Participant Self-Assessment of Essential Employability Competencies: PDF // Word
  5. Resource | Career Guide from Illinois State Board of Education
  6. Resource | Parent Engagement Tip Sheet from Youth CareerConnect
  7. Resource | Skill & Interest Surveys from Illinois workNet
  1. Template | Participants Program Outline & Expectations: PDF // Word
  2. Resource | Pre-assessment/Career Surveys from Illinois workNet
  3. Resource | Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy
  4. Resource | Supporting In-School and Out-of-School Youth Experiencing Homelessness Through Education and Workforce Partnership from the National Center for Homeless Education
  5. Resource | Employment 101 from Illinois workNet
  1. Template | Participant Orientation at Host Site: PDF // Word
  2. Template | Participant Host Site Background Research: PDF // Word
  3. Template | Participant “About Me” Profile: PDF // Word
  4. Exemplar | Teen Volunteer Application from Cancer Treatment Centers of America
  5. Resource | State-by-State Non-Drive Identification Requirements from National Network for Youth
  6. Resource | Money Smart: Youth Employment Resource Center from FDIC
  1. Template | Participant Business Card
  2. Resource | GetMyFuture Website from CareerOneStop
  3. Resource | Job Skills Guides from Illinois workNet
  4. Resource | Employment 101 from Illinois workNet
Onboarding for Hosts
  1. Template | Host Confirmation and Participant Introduction Email/Letter: PDF // Word
  2. Template | Participant “About Me” Profile: PDF // Word
  1. Template | Host Orientation Presentation: PowerPoint
  2. Template | Guidebook for Hosts: PDF // Word
  3. Resource | Participant Tasks Examples by Pathway Endorsement Area
  4. Resource | Questions for Experienced Hosts
  5. Resource | Workplace Accommodation Toolkit from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
  6. Resource | Inclusive Internship Programs: A How-to Guide for Employers from the U.S. Department of Labor
  1. Template | Participant Orientation at Host Site: PDF // Word
  2. Resource | Host & Participant Check-In Meetings

Important Issues to Monitor


Record Keeping

For Credit: Require an hourly log as a course assignment submitted via paper records and/or a learning management system. A Participant’s letter grade will verify their completion of hours.

For Pay: A Participant’s payroll can serve as verification of hours completed but a time sheet verified, by the Host should still be completed to validate hours.

Professional Skills Development

As defined in the PWR Act, a professional skills assessment is…

A tool-based observational assessment of a participant’s performance in a career development experience given by an adult supervisor and shared with the participant that addresses foundational professional skills including, at a minimum, those outlined in the Essential Employability Skills framework. The professional skills assessment tool is to be used primarily as a feedback tool and development strategy and not as the sole basis for a grade or credit determination.

Specifically, participants should reflect on the following before their formal professional skills assessment:

Making Connections
  • How does what they are doing at the host site relate to the expected CDE learning outcomes?
  • How does this experience prepare and inform them in their career pathway of interest?
  • Does the quality of their work match the Host’s standards and expectations?
  • How have they improved their knowledge and skills over time (specifically what did they do to be successful)?
  • Can they identify their strengths and how they have contributed to the work of their Host?
  • In what areas do they need more support and what steps will they take to advance current knowledge/skills?

Navigating Challenges

Consider the graph of the Gartner Hype Cycle that is used to show the graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of new technologies as it relates to a participant’s CDE and may affect their performance:

navigating challenges
gartner hype cycle

Setting and Revisiting Goals

A great way to regroup when challenges have occurred and facilitate a collaborative and asset-based conversation with hosts and participants is to focus on setting goals and positive forward thinking. It is easy to get wrapped up in the current frustrations and associated emotions when something has gone wrong. Your role as a managing organization is to be a liaison between hosts and participants to work through a difficult situation. Have the host and participant discuss what goals they have and what success in those goals would look like. Then spend some time defining the roles and responsibilities of all of you to ensure that those goals are met.

CDE Online Toolkit Resources

  1. Resource | Participant Reflection Questions
  2. Resource | Observational Assessment and Worksite Evaluation tools from Illinois workNet
  3. Resource| Example Professional Skills Assessment for Education Pathway from Making Opportunities Real for Everyone (MORE) in the Mississippi and Rock River Region
  1. Resource | Hype Cycle from Gartner
  2. Resource | A Guide to Providing Feedback to Participants
  3. Resource | A Guide to Difficult Conversations
  4. Template | Navigating Challenges Worksheet: PDF // Word
  5. Template | Participant Improvement Plan: PDF // Word

Host Assessment

At the conclusion of their CDE, participants should be provided the opportunity to evaluate their placement site and any host staff with whom they directly worked. This information is helpful for your organization to determine any items that went well and others that need to be addressed for improvement of future CDEs.

Items to be addressed on this assessment:

Task Engagement
  • Did they engage in work that they feel will help them in the future?
  • Do they understand how their work contributed to their host?
  • Do they feel that their host wants to see them succeed and respects them?
  • Did they feel able to approach their Host with questions and get help?
  • Which essential employability and technical competencies did their host focus on?
  • How has their career pathway been informed by interactions with their host?

Participant Professional Portfolio

A work-based learning portfolio may include:


CDE Close-Out for Hosts

Some general topics to be covered in the assessment of the CDE are:


Exit Interviews with Participants

Encourage hosts to find time before or during a participant’s last day of their CDE to gather feedback on the experience. Participants can provide information on what their favorite aspects were as well as the things that were the most challenging during the CDE. Hosts can also ask for suggestions on areas of improvement and growth to provide a CDE that meets participant and organizational expectations.

CDE Online Toolkit Resources

  1. Template | Participant Evaluation of Host & Organization: PDF // Word
  2. Template | Participant Presentation: PDF // PowerPoint
  3. Template | Certificate of Completion
  1. Template | Host Evaluation of Participant & Organization: PDF // Word
  2. Resource | Participant Exit Interview with Host
  3. Resource | Principles for Sustaining Employer Partnerships from Tennessee State Government