From Theory to Practice: Field Experimental Evidence on Early Exposure of Engineering Majors to Professional Work
Young workers typically enter the professional labor market only after completing higher education. We investigate how earlier professional work experience affects skilled worker development. In a field experiment, 1,787 Engineering majors were randomly assigned to 6-month work terms to begin either in the second or third year of studies. Early exposure caused systematic differences in inclination to take Engineering elective courses, choice of major, and the probability of persisting in Engineering years later—consistent with engagement, retention, and sorting effects. Early exposure notably increased academic and professional outcomes of lower-income students.
We appreciate helpful comments from seminar participants at the NBER productivity seminar, ESMT, the University of Maryland, and Boston University. This work was conducted with financial support and advice from the Research Institute for Experiential Learning Science (RIELS); and we are especially grateful for advice and support from Susan Ambrose and Cidgem Talgar and colleagues Tony Armelin, John Bielaus, Esther Chewning, Roy Dalsheim, Joy Erb, Janna Ferguson, Rana Glasgal, Mary Kane, Shane Karcz, Laura Kenney, Candace Martel, Lorraine Mountain, Charles Price, Chris White, and Ellen Zierk. We also thank Muyang Zhou and Bochau Sun for research assistance. We would also like to acknowledge financial support from Boston University and Northeastern DMSB. The views expressed are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions, funders or supporters and advisors involved with this study. Errors are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.