What is Work-Based Learning?
Work-Based learning (WBL) is a strategy that provides students with real-life work experiences where they can apply academic and technical skills and develop their employability; the goal is to bridge the gap between learning and doing.
Top 5 Reasons to Participate in a Work-Based Learning Experience
- Gain Experience — Experience is incredibly valuable
in the real world. Studying a subject and practicing one are two completely different things.
Average starting salary of students with internships is higher than those without.
- Improve Your Skill Sets — Many skills are best
learned while on the job. This includes soft skills like communication, having a positive
attitude, and working well in a team. Internships give you a chance to prove yourself and
excel through practice at improving such skills.
- Get Insight — Maybe you aren't sure in which direction
you want to go for your career. An internship gives you a chance to test a field before
committing to a position.
- Expand Your Network — People you work with will
likely serve as references for future job applications. Most jobs require professional references.
- Future Possibilities — When you intern, you have
your foot in the door and are no longer just a name on a resume. Many companies use their
interns as their main hiring pool.
What You Should Know Before Applying
Congratulations! You've made the decision to start exploring a career pathway, so you may
have some big questions. There are many decisions that have to be made and explored before applying for
a work-based learning experience.
What do I want to learn? Does it have to be paid? Is school credit non-negotiable? What time of year? Where
can I find funding if I need it? Where do I find the opportunities?
Paid versus unpaid?
Work-based learning opportunities typically fall under 2 categories — paid or unpaid. Employers might offer an hourly wage
for their work-based learning program, a stipend for living expenses if it is away from home, or possible student credit.
Before you apply for a work-based learning opportunity you need to determine if you require being paid or if you have the financial
resources to take an unpaid experience. Taking an unpaid experience means you might need some kind of financial
support coming from elsewhere like a part time job, parents/guardians or a scholarship program. Just like a job,
an internship will require money for transportation, food, and professional attire.
A work-based learning opportunity provides invaluable work experience. Studies show that experiences such as an internship is more helpful in getting a job than a business degree. If you are offered an internship you really want and are on the fence because it is unpaid, its value is tremendous.
Do I need school credit?
Work-based learning opportunities are offered with or without school credit as compensation. If you need school credit then most likely you
will want to search for work-based learning opportunities through your school's career services or college major department. For school credit
to be offered with a work-based learning opportunity there will be a curriculum with assigned school work to follow by the employer.
If you are interested in a work-based learning opportunity and the employer is not offering school credit, it doesn't hurt to ask them if they
would be open to working with your school to provide credit. Many employers are interested in providing school credit but
don't know how or what channels to go through to create a work-based learning program. You can
provide them the contact information for your school's career services or college major department.
Where can I find scholarships for a work-based learning opportunity?
You want to work, but taking an unpaid experience would be difficult for you. If you are enrolled in high school check
with your guidance counselors or teachers to inquire about work-based learning resources. If you are enrolled in college, checking with
department of your major or your career services office could also connect you with potential resources. Being proactive
and curious about available resources is one of the best ways to find resources.
What is my availability?
Work-based learning opportunities can be seasonal, offered over the summer or winter breaks, and they can also overlap with your semester
or smaller breaks. It is important for you to determine the best time of year for your experience based on your school
workload and financial resources.
What is a "virtual experience"?
A virtual work-based learning opportunity is completed from an offsite location rather than a typical office. There are lots of virtual experiences
out there but they can be more competitive because the hiring pool is much larger with greater competition.
How intense do you want your internship to be?
Work-based learning opportunities including internships are generally categorized as high and low intensity experiences.
After you think about what you want to learn and your availability, it is important to give some thought into how intense
of an experience you want.
What you get out of your internship experience is largely up to you. How will choosing a high intensity experience affect
other responsibilities you might have including a part time job, school work, and family obligations? High intensity internships
usually require more time, but the payoff is big.
What are "career ready" skills and how do they relate to internships and future jobs?
A work-based learning opportunity can help you decide if a career path is right for you or learn about a pathway you didn't know existed. Job skills fall into two categories- technical skills and soft
A work-based learning opportunity allows you to explore a specific career and apply what you are learning in the classroom. What you
are learning in the classroom. What you are learning in the classroom is usually linked to technical skills. If you've declared a major and taken required classes, the next step is to decide what you intend to do with your degree. What jobs are supported by what you've learned in college
and how do you want to expand on that knowledge through application in a professional setting?
Employers are also looking at candidates with strong soft skills. Soft skills are typically not learned in a
classroom setting and are acquired through experience in the world of work and social settings. A career exploration experience
can help you build on your soft skills and increase your chances for future employment. They include:
- written communication skills,
- problem-solving skills,
- work ethic,
- analytical/quantitative skills,
- verbal communication skills,
- technical skills,
- and being detail oriented.
Think about which soft skills you want to strengthen with your work-based learning opportunity and which ones you can use in demonstrating
you are a qualified candidate when interviewing.