What Is Work-Based Learning?

Work-based learning is defined by activities and experiences when a student or worker:

  • Goes to a workplace or works with an employer
  • Does meaningful job tasks that (a) develop his or her skills, knowledge, and readiness for work and (b) support entry or advancement in a particular career field.

Work-based learning can benefit in-school youth, opportunity youth, adult jobseekers, or incumbent workers (employees already working at a company who seek to advance their careers), by which we mean existing employees at a company seeking to advance their careers.

Work-based learning encompasses a wide array of learning experiences, from exposing high school students to careers through activities like job shadowing, to providing incumbent workers with specialized training. Work-based learning extends into the workplace through on-the-job training, mentoring, and other supports in a continuum of lifelong learning and skill development.

The goals of work-based learning may include helping participants:

  • Be ready for work and careers
  • Enter an education or training program
  • Complete a career-related program of study
  • Earn an academic degree or industry-recognized credential attainment
  • Get a job
  • Advance in a career
  • Attain self-sufficiency

The Work-Based Learning Continuum

Work-based learning is at its most powerful when experiences advance along a sequential, purposeful continuum. Experiences along the continuum are increasingly personalized and aligned with specific industries and occupations, providing participants with opportunities to contextualize what they learn and build their skills and knowledge.

Career exploration builds a strong foundation for successful work-based learning by increasing participants’ awareness of career options. While career exploration activities such as career fairs, industry projects, and mock interviews do not take place in workplaces and are not forms of work-based learning, these activities prepare participants to enter workplaces and make the most of work-based learning opportunities.

WBL Framework Graphic

We have divided our work-based learning continuum into three phases:

Career Exposure

  • What it looks like: Participants enter workplaces for short periods of time with the goal of gaining introductory information about an industry and associated occupations.
  • Models include: job shadowing, company/workplace tours, informational interviews, and mentoring.

Career Engagement

  • What it looks like: Participants increase their knowledge of an identified field of interest while gaining employability skills and some entry-level technical knowledge or skills.
  • Models include: internships, co-ops, and simulations.

Career Experience

  • What it looks like: Participants gain specific skills and paid work experience in a particular industry and/or occupation.
  • Models include: apprenticeship, on-the-job training, and transitional jobs.

Learn more about models across the continuum of work-based learning.