Guest Blog by Noelle Hobbs

Youth learn in a variety of ways, most commonly through completing a task. Work-based learning is a great opportunity for students to put skills they have learned in the classroom to the test, and to learn new skills along the way. Work-based learning can lead to increased college enrollment, higher wages in the future, and more and earlier success in the job market.

What is Work-Based Learning?

Work-based learning is an educational strategy that consists of activities and experiences that help one learn work skills, and for older students it can offer tailored skills for a field they are interested in. It might seem like second nature to many, but youth need experiences that help them understand “what work is, what it means to work, and how individuals learn how to do work.” Youth are able to learn and understand what is appropriate and expected in a work environment through work-based learning. There are different types of work-based learning, including internships, mentorships, apprenticeships and service-learning.

Service-Learning as Work-Based Learning

Service-learning is service for others that connects a service experience to the school curriculum and provides opportunities for students to deepen and apply classroom learning through voluntary action for the common good.

Students are given a sense of purpose and motivation through service-learning because they are making a difference. They are able to apply skills and talents to help a cause that benefits their community. In the process, students are preparing themselves for responsible citizenship along with college and future careers.

Especially for students who may not be old enough to partake in an internship or apprenticeship, service-learning provides an avenue for students of all ages to gain technical and professional skills. Additionally, philanthropy education and service-learning allow those with disabilities to gain valuable skills, without risk of penalty or loss of disability benefits.

The Benefits of Work-Based Learning and Service-Learning

These hands-on approaches to learning allow the those involved to benefit from their implementation, including students, schools, and the community. A program must have a strong foundation, and educators who are motivated to ensure its success.

  • K-12 Students learn valuable skills that can transfer to future college and career success.

    • Ability to apply knowledge in “real world” setting. Students spend time learning a variety skills in the classroom, and can apply those skills to help an organization thrive. They see how the things they are learning in the classroom are implemented in a work-based setting.

    • Opportunity for post-grad employment. Working with organizations allows students to make connections and to start building a professional network, before they even graduate. If the student enjoyed their time working at a certain organization and were successful, the organization may offer post-grad employment.

    • Learning and demonstrating “soft skills.” Soft skills include communication, problem-solving, integrity, responsibility, teamwork and professionalism. Working together with others in an organization makes it necessary to be able to communicate with others who are different than them, while striving to work together to solve a problem.

    • Able to test out multiple career options. Work-based learning and service-learning allows youth them to explore what they might be interested in career-wise, before making a finite decision. This can be a way to expand options, but also limit options in what students are not interested in pursuing.

  • Involvement in work-based learning and service-learning helps create successful schools.

    • Can improve student motivation, attendance, and graduation rates. Work-based learning provides an experience and responsibility inside and outside the classroom that motivates students to show up day after day. They are motivated because they are doing something that they have expressed interest in.

    • Makes education more relevant. Through individualizing instruction, education is becoming more valuable students because it directly relates to them. This helps educators craft their lesson planning to create a more holistic learning experience.

  • The community is able to grow and become stronger through the partnerships developed.

    • Collaboration and cooperation with others. Through working with a school, employers and others in the community, people are coming together to build a stronger community. Each group is bringing something different to the table, and they are able to benefit by working together.

    • Working with diverse people. Without work-based learning, students may not have the opportunity to work with others different from them. In turn, the organization may not be working with youth. Working with multiple ages, genders, and ethnicities, creates a space for diverse perspectives and youth voice to be shared.

Introducing Work-Based Learning and Service-Learning in the Classroom

Allowing students to have real world experience can be easily integrated into the classroom. Use these activity ideas for students to get started sharing their time and talents to improve community.

  • Use this educator mini-course for an introduction to service-learning with a brief overview of strategies and helpful tips. Plus, earn a certificate suitable for a professional development portfolio, or as proof of .75 educational clock hours that can be used toward continuing education credit.

  • Explore what it means to be nonprofit and for-profit in the classroom, and the job opportunities that are available with each. Have students reflect on their own job related interests and skills.

  • Plan a field trip to tour a workplace that may be of interest to students. They will learn about the company, meet employees, ask questions and observe work in progress.

  • Invite professionals to come into the classroom and share their experiences. Have students prepare questions to interview professionals on why they chose their profession, what their duties are, and more!

  • Provide resources for students to job shadow and encourage them to do so for a few hours during the week. If the students are interested, they can choose to spend more time shadowing, or find other opportunities to shadow.

  • Reach out to local professionals to find those interested in career mentoring. Students will be able to pair with a professional in a field that interests them.

  • Have students understand their giving passions and then research local nonprofits that align with those passions. Students can reach out to volunteer to use their skills to help benefit a cause they care about.

Though work-based learning and service-learning, youth are applying skills to real-life situations and gaining new skills and opportunities. They are able to explore career pathways, such as nonprofit work, that they may have never considered before. Through this process, students are discovering their passions and locating ways to use their talents to be an active member of the community. Participation in meaningful work creates a sense of belonging and purpose, identity confidence, and expands student ability, which contributes to healthy human development.