Work-based Learning 101

Work-based learning (WBL) is not a new concept. Undoubtedly, it has changed over the years and will continue to, especially as younger generations like Generation Z enter the workforce.

Work-based learning (WBL) is not a new concept. Undoubtedly, it has changed over the years and will continue to, especially as younger generations like Generation Z enter the workforce. Generation Z is known for being the generation raised with technology, however they are also eager to learn, making WBL an attractive teaching and training method. As workplaces understand the underlying implications of the pandemic, WBL can play a vital role in how employers rebuild, foster, and hire new talent.

WBL is often thought of as apprenticeships and internships, which is true, however to accommodate the shifts of workplace demands and different learning pathways for youth, the  Ohio Department of Education identifies the following as WBL experiences:

  • Job Site Placement and Internship
  • Apprenticeship and Pre-Apprenticeship
  • Remote or Virtual Placement
  • Entrepreneurship
  • School-based Enterprise
  • Simulated Work Environment 

While each of these WBL experiences have different specifications and requirements, a commonly accepted understanding is that the “experience is co-supervised and co-evaluated by an employer or external business mentor, with a learning agreement that defines the work tasks of the experience and connects them to the professional, academic, and technical standards aligned to the student’s program of study” (Ohio Department of Education). Phrases such as “sustained period of time” and “learning agreement” are helpful in truly understanding the difference between WBL and a job shadow or career fair.

WBL encompasses three key aspects – youth (in school or out of school), workplace/employer, and classroom/teacher. The diagram below illustrates the interconnectedness and fluidity that is needed for quality WBL experiences.


Through the alignment of classroom and workplace learning, application of academic and technical skills, and support from classroom or workplace mentors, youth are guided throughout their experiences and in some cases afterwards. When employers choose to be a part of WBL experiences or programs, they illustrate their dedication in cultivating and preparing future employees. For employers wanting more information on possible WBL experiences, Career Ready NYC provides a comprehensive guide with varying levels of commitment.

To ensure WBL experiences are created and implemented, the federal government has written it into the Acts listed below, signifying their importance for youth and for the continuity of a thriving workforce:

Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (2014) 

  • WBL experiences are a required activity of Job Corps Centers 
  • Funding and supportive services can be used to provide WBL experiences for individuals with disabilities 

Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 

  • Educational efforts should provide support for WBL experiences through coordination of industry professionals and career exploration
  • Students should have the option to earn academic credit through WBL
  • Administration and staff can access funding for WBL professional development  

Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) 

  • WBL experiences should be incorporated into state plans through programs of study and the partnership between school districts, post-secondary institutions, and employers 
  • Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs have different requirements, however there are opportunities for WBL experiences to enhance or provide additional support to students in CTE programs

The TriHealth School to Work Program in Cincinnati, Ohio, recently received a $14 million endowment after the successful graduation of its first cohort. Through this apprenticeship program, ISY are exposed to the multi-faceted healthcare industry. Over two years, youth are rotated through different departments at TriHealth’s Good Samaritan Hospital, emphasizing hands-on-training and soft skill development. Key components, such as the application of classroom instruction and technical skills, industry exploration, and mentorship, contribute to the success of this program, as does the partnership of multiple stakeholders. Programs like TriHealth School to Work create young talent pipelines which meet industry demands, however the bigger picture of WBL embodies the findings identified by Brookings of fostering a diversified workforce and the development of social capital, especially for youth who face barriers to graduation and employment.

DePaul Cristo Rey’s corporate work study program is part of the national Cristo Rey Network where working and learning are unified. Youth, through local placements, pay for their high school education while working in four-person job sharing teams. In this collaborative effort with employers and teachers, youth hours are equivalent to one full time employee. Invested employers provide more than just a placement, but also mentorship and workplace expertise.

Leading by example, Cristo Rey’s program exemplifies Jobs for the Future’s 7 principles for effective WBL experiences. The implementation of these principles through college preparatory and professional experience provide youth with the skills they need to continue to college or enter the workforce.

The Comprehensive Case Management Employment Program (CCMEP), a unique program to Ohio, utilizes the partnership and resources between Talbert HouseEastersealsCommunity Action Agency, and the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio to serve in-school youth (ISY) and out of school youth (OSY). Through this partnership, ISY and OSY are registered in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, and can access services that assist with training and employment. For example, Easterseals’ YouthBuild and Apprenticeships programs offer support from the organization and industry as youth gain knowledge, technical, and soft skills.

Employers who engage with youth in the career exploration phase of their lives can have a lasting impression on their long-term career goals and pathways. For more information on what an ideal partners looks like, please visit the Chamber’s Work-Based Learning pageNaviGo, a nonprofit dedicated to preparing youth for post-secondary success and work readiness, collaborates with school districts and local in-demand industries to provide WBL experiences. The Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Education Services (NKCES) connects students and employers with available WBL opportunities within their area, providing valuable training and experience. The region is committed to connecting school districts, nonprofits and local businesses through WBL experiences, making it easier for employers who want to create a diversified workforce.

The advantages of WBL cannot be denied. It simply works, and it may be in part due to the generation that is accessing it. Generation Z spans the age of 10 to 25 years old, placing many of them in high school, post-secondary school, or as new to the workforce. Employers who understand how to appeal to this generation, a generation that values learning and desires robust on-the-job training, through WBL will be ahead of their competitors.

Rabina Anand
Independent Consultant
With over 10 years of experience developing partnerships within the education and non-profit industry, Rabina is passionate about bringing community together for positive change. Beginning her career as an educator in Toronto, Canada, Rabina quickly learned the value and importance of education in creating community impact, which led her to pursue a graduate degree in Adult Education and Community Development.

In recent years, Rabina has focused her skills on training new talent within the workforce, specifically through developing internships and building mentor relationships. Rabina also brings a strong foundation and knowledge base in program development and management. Supported by her education, professional experience, and community focus, Rabina is excited to help companies reach their goals.

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Ready to Solve Your Workforce Challenges?

Stop trying the same approaches and hoping for different results. Partner with our trusted, skilled advisors to create real change. A change that benefits both your employees and your bottom line.