Why Work-Based Learning?

Work-based learning solves a problem faced by many Americans: it’s hard to get a job without work experience, and hard to get work experience without a job.

Work-based learning is a proven strategy through which youth and adults gain the skills and credentials they need to enter and succeed in careers. Work-based learning can be especially important to those low-income students, jobseekers, low-skilled incumbent workers, and opportunity youth who may otherwise lack access to the educational opportunities, professional networks, and social capital that often play a critical role in career success.

Students and workers can:

  • Gain exposure to the world of work. Participants in work-based learning gain skills that are valued by employers but may be challenging to teach in classroom settings. These include professional skills such as working as part of a team, being proactive, and understanding workplace expectations.
  • Get immersed in a career field. Work-based learning is an opportunity for immersion in the field of interest and interaction with professionals who are already working in it. This experience can spur interest and motivation to move forward.
  • Strengthen and practice academic learning. Students apply classroom learning in real-world situations, which demonstrates the relevance of their learning and enforces skill-building.
  • Get a temporary or permanent job. Many participants in work-based learning experiences require an income to support themselves and their families. Participants may be hired permanently from their opportunity, or gain skills that enable them to get another job.

Traditional classroom-based education and job training programs do not always reflect workplace needs, and employers find that many job candidates lack valuable hands-on experience. In order to develop the most relevant talent pipeline, career preparation should reflect industry’s most in-demand skills and take place within the context of the workplace. 

Employers can:

  • Develop a more robust talent pipeline. Employers see supporting work-based learning as part of a grow-your-own strategy that will increase the number of workers who are qualified for positions that have historically been difficult to fill. In leading and contributing to work-based learning efforts, employers have an opportunity to ensure that potential workers acquire skills and qualifications aligned with workforce needs. Some employers also view internships as “pre-employment screenings” that give them an opportunity to train and observe potential employees before committing to hiring them for vacant positions.
  • Access a diverse and innovative workforce. Employers who work with young people and nontraditional populations that work-based learning can serve often report that they are favorably impressed by the innovative ideas and new perspectives that these populations bring to their workplaces. These fresh ideas help employers stay competitive and keep pace with a rapidly evolving marketplace. For example, young people are often especially valuable contributors to conversations about technology, thanks to their knowledge of social media and the digital world. Employees with diverse perspectives can help a business market itself to a broader customer base than would otherwise be the case. Working with these populations is a particularly effective way for employers to create a diverse pool of applicants from which to hire for future job openings.
  • Get branding opportunities, increased name recognition, and positive press. Business leaders often report that this type of work can earn positive publicity and goodwill in their communities. Employers have successfully capitalized on increased name recognition and positive publicity to build their brands and reputations.
  • Contribute to economic development that boosts business prospects. Many employers see supporting work-based learning opportunities as a way not only to give back to their communities, but also to strengthen and encourage economic growth in those communities. In the long run, the creation of a skilled workforce can contribute to economic development that benefits everyone in the region by reducing unemployment, increasing consumer spending, and attracting new businesses to the area. This type of robust economic growth benefits existing businesses in a region.

Check out how work-based learning can help build career pathways and talent pipelines in your community and industry.