Individualized Learning Plans How-to Guide – Section I, Career Planning & Management, Work-based Learning

Work-Based Learning

Research shows that well designed and implemented work-based learning activities contribute to both the intellectual and career development of high school students such as those  recognized by the National Academy Foundation as critical to helping students develop career readiness skills.xv In general, work-based learning programs have three key components: (a) school-based learning classroom instruction involving both academic and technical areas; (b) a work-based learning structured work activity; and, (c) a connecting career development activity.

Work-based learning activities often begin in elementary and middle school with career awareness, field trips, and job shadowing.  By the high school years, these activities should be supplemented by more complex work-based learning experiences such as school-based enterprises and entrepreneurial ventures.  By the time students are juniors and seniors, some will be branching out into even more focused work-based learning programs, such as those involving internships, clinical experiences, cooperative education, or youth apprenticeship (or pre-apprenticeship) – which may or may not continue beyond high school.  As job opportunities for high school students continue to wane, it is important for schools to begin taking responsibility for creating discussion with their local business community about the need for offering work-based learning and employment opportunities during the school year as well as throughout the summer. 

Work-based learning opportunities are important to supporting college and career readiness goals of all students.  By engaging in work-based learning opportunities, students develop a range of skills that employers can certify using a prepared checklist or letter that can be added to the students’ ILP.  Students engaged in work-based learning opportunities also learn about careers that can support their ability to make more effective career decisions as well as become aware of how current course opportunities in high school are relevant to helping them pursue future goals.  For students with disabilities, engaging in work-based learning opportunities is predictive of their ability to secure post-high school employment.

Work-based learning sample curricula, lesson plans, and other activities that are ready to be used or adapted include:

Specific Resource for Work-based Learning for Students with Disabilities

The Project Summer model uses a World Café strategy to bring key stakeholders together in order to have conversations about increasing youth employment opportunities during the school year and during summer.  Stakeholders include business and community leaders, educators, parents, and students:

Go to Next Section

Return to Table of Contents

xv National Academy Foundation. (2011).  Guide to workbased learning: A continuum of activities and experience.  Available at:

Need help viewing a document? View our document help page.

Have a comment or suggestion in regard to our site? Please send us your feedback.