Key Principles

Expanding access to the benefits of work-based learning is critical to improving the career prospects of low-income and low-skilled Americans, and ensuring our economy has the highly skilled workforce it needs to thrive.

JFF has identified seven key principles for effective work-based learning models to ensure that work-based learning can fulfill its promise as a critical component of career pathways strategies designed to bolster education and employment outcomes. The overall goal of these principles is to strengthen the talent pipeline by increasing the number of individuals who successfully access and complete work-based learning experiences, acquire skills and knowledge valued by employers, and enter and advance in careers.

  1. Support entry and advancement in a career track. Effective models of work-based learning provide participants with opportunities to build knowledge, develop skills, and advance in specific career paths. Work-based learning supports the development of both industry-specific technical skills and professional skills, such as communications, teamwork, and problem solving, valued by nearly all employers.
  2. Provide meaningful jobs tasks that build career skills and knowledge. Participants in work-based learning must have opportunities to engage in appropriately complex and relevant tasks aligned with participants’ career goals. Work-based learning should include mentoring and supervision, and should continue over a sustained period of time to allow participants adequate opportunities to perform meaningful job tasks.
  3. Offer compensation. Compensating work-based learning participants honors individuals’ contributions and helps them remain focused and motivated. If work-based learning programs do not offer compensation, many individuals will be unable to participate in career-advancing opportunities because they need paid employment.
  4. Identify target skills and how gains will be validated. Understanding of the skills to be attained increases its value to both students and employers. Effective approaches to validating skills include reflective practices that lead to continuous learning and ensure integration with learning goals, as well as formal assessments through which participants can demonstrate job competencies.
  5. Reward skill development. Effective work-based learning models reinforce learning by rewarding skills development through mechanisms such as increased wages and benefits, high school or postsecondary credit, opportunities to transition to permanent employment, and promotions for incumbent workers.
  6. Support college entry, persistence, and completion. Work-based learning should link to secondary and postsecondary programs of study. The fact that work-based learning often provides postsecondary credentials, coupled with its role in reinforcing classroom learning and its potential to provide students with needed financial support, also supports persistence and completion.
  7. Provide comprehensive student supports. Effective work-based learning incorporates career navigation structures such as advising or coaching that equip students with the information they need to make informed choices about their careers. In addition, support for situations that challenge students’ progress must be implemented (i.e. childcare for an in-school parent).

Check out work-based learning resources that can help you integrate these quality designs into your programs.