Why Should You Care About Work-Based Learning?

by Devean R. Owens / Feb 21, 2017

OCCRL is celebrating CTE month through a four-part blog series. This is the third blog in the series.

Work-Based Learning (WBL) programs allow students to create a well-rounded learning experience through traditional education as well as gain career and technical skills. There are four key elements to a successful WBL program: doing work that matters to someone, doing work with adults who care, doing work that is challenging, and having compensation tied to real market value (Chicago Public Schools, n.d.).

Students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have the opportunity to engage in and learn from job shadows, internships, cooperative education, guest speakers, and site visits. The opportunities occur during varying points in students’ school journeys. For example, Juniors typically participate in job shadows because they have completed a substantial portion of the career and technical education (CTE) curriculum. Similarly, promising Seniors have the opportunity to participate in a year-long cooperative education (Illinois workNet Center System, n.d.). Fuller Hamilton (2015) highlights the important role WBL opportunities play in students’ career development. Specifically, Fuller Hamilton states:

Exposing students to information on careers beginning in the early elementary grades, continuing career exploration into the middle grades, expanding into career preparation in the early high school years, and providing specific career training in the late high school years and beyond are essential in providing high quality preparation for college and careers. (Fuller Hamilton, 2015, p.3).

The CPS website outlines the following benefits for students who participate in WBL:

  • Application of classroom learning in real-world setting
  • Establishment of a clear connection between education and work
  • Assessment of their interests, aptitudes, and abilities while learning about the career possibilities available to them - explore possible careers
  • Improvement of their post-graduation employment opportunities
  • Development and practice of positive work related habits and attitudes, including the ability to think critically, solve problems, work in teams, and resolve issues that relate to possible careers
  • Assessment and understanding the expectations of the workplace
  • Expansion and refinement of their technical skills
  • Participation in authentic, job related tasks
  • Observation of the demeanor and procedures of workplace professionals
  • Development of an increased motivation/appreciation for staying in school and the importance of postsecondary education opportunities both at the community college level and at the university level. (Chicago Public Schools, 2017, para. 2)

Marginalized students benefit more from WBL programs (Rodriguez, Fox, & McCambly, 2016). Specifically, apprenticeships allow students to earn a living wage while furthering their education (Rodriguez et al., 2016). However, while underrepresented students often desire to develop the skills necessary to secure family-wage employment they often cannot afford to participate in unpaid WBL activities (Rodriguez et al., 2016). Unfortunately, however, there is a small percentage of low income students and students of color participating in WBL programs (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2007).  

Whether you’re a student, administrator, or employer, in the spirit of CTE Month 2017, take time to explore WBL options and/or possible partnerships in your area. Below are a few resources that provide more information as well as outline how to create and maintain a successful WBL program.



  • Chicago Public Schools (n.d.). CPS career and technical education guide to work-based learning: CPS, business and community partners. Chicago, IL: Author.
  • Chicago Public Schools. (2017). Work-based learning. Chicago, IL: Author.
  • Fuller Hamilton, A. N. (2015). Work-based learning programs: Providing experiential learning opportunities for all students. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign. Retrieved from http://occrl.illinois.edu/docs/librariesprovider4/prc/work-based-learning.pdf
  • Illinois workNet Center System (2017). Work Based Learning. Springfield, IL: Author. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from https://www.illinoisworknet.com/wbl
  • National Survey of Student Engagement. (2007). Experiences that matter: Enhancing student learning and success. Bloomington, IN: Center for Postsecondary Research, School of Education, Indiana University.
  • Rodriguez, J., Fox, H., & McCambly, H. (2016). Work-Based learning as a pathway to postsecondary and career success. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign. Retrieved from http://occrl.illinois.edu/docs/librariesProvider4/ptr/wbl-brief.pdf