Blog / Building Coherent Strategies

Work-Based Learning: A Key Lever for Building Critical Connections

Rudy Ruiz

Posted October 6, 2021


A growing body of research is making it clear that, while competencies and credentials are critical to postsecondary readiness and success, students – especially those from historically disenfranchised backgrounds – also need connections. Without closing the social capital gap, First Gen college grads “get lesser jobs at lower pay than their well-connected peers.”[1]

In our work helping to strengthen the postsecondary readiness efforts and outcomes in communities around the U.S., we are pleased that more leaders are recognizing the importance of work-based learning (WBL). Jobs for the Future defines WBL as the completion of “meaningful job tasks in a workplace that develop readiness for work, knowledge, and skills that support entry or advancement in a particular career.”

Our interactions with postsecondary partners – including community colleges, higher education, and employers – affirm the conclusions of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce: the most in-demand competencies are communication, teamwork, problem solving and complex thinking, leadership, and sales and customer service. Clearly, these competencies are better learned by incorporating work-based learning, rather than in-classroom learning alone.

A developmentally appropriate continuum of WBL experiences can support students’ career exploration, skill development, and preparation for career launch. WBL heightens student engagement with school and serves as a win-win for schools and employers to expose students to industry sectors and careers that may be highly viable pathways to prosperity but lesser known by the general public.

To help schools and employers team up to identify and co-create meaningful, feasible WBL opportunities, we helped create an eBook, Work-Based Learning Made Easy: A Toolkit to Maximize Opportunities in Your Community. This free resource draws on the perspectives of the many stakeholders who benefit from WBL, including students, educators, and employers. The toolkit includes a variety of resources, including helpful talking points and guidance on effective WBL practices, as well as links to documents such as memoranda of understanding (MOUs) to help formalize WBL partnerships.

We hope you enjoy this resource. We look forward to helping more communities achieve their goals for equitable postsecondary attainment and rewarding careers for students from all backgrounds.


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