This tool kit will provide state and local program administrators with information regarding the key components of work-based learning (WBL), an instructional strategy that enhances classroom learning by connecting it to the workplace. It offers guidelines and resources related to creating a state WBL strategy, engaging employers, collecting data, and scaling effective programs.

Components of Comprehensive Work-based Learning (WBL) Programs

Recent research, policy literature, and federal legislation suggest that comprehensive WBL programs contain three key components: the alignment of classroom and workplace learning; application of academic, technical, and employability skills in a work setting; and support from classroom or workplace mentors. View the framework below, then scroll down to learn more about WBL in federal legislation and see references for the three components.

Work-based Learning in Federal Legislation

Federal legislation references work-based learning (WBL) in the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA). Click on the links to access the full text of the legislation, or read more below.

WBL in Perkins

Perkins V defines WBL and uses the term in many sections, including in reference to state plans, programs of study, and collaboration among secondary schools, postsecondary institutions, and employers. The law also includes participation in WBL as one of three indicators of program quality that states may select to report.


ESSA references WBL in three separate sections. In Section 1112, the legislation states that local education agency plans should describe support for WBL programs to provide students with exposure to industry professionals and the option to earn academic credit. Section 2103 includes professional development for teachers and administrators on WBL instruction as an allowable use of local funds. Finally, Section 4203 lists WBL as a possible indicator of career readiness at the secondary school level for the purpose of state applications for federal funds.


WIOA mentions WBL in reference to Job Corps and Vocational Rehabilitation programs. Section 148 describes WBL as a required activity of Job Corps centers, with WBL provided in locations that comply with occupational safety and health guidelines (Section 159). Additionally, Section 418 amends legislation on the use federal vocational rehabilitation funds for training and services for employers to include working with employers to design WBL activities for individuals with disabilities. Section 422 amends the description of pre-employment services for individuals with disabilities to include WBL as a required activity.

For More Information

The following selected references provide more information on the three WBL components and discuss the benefits of WBL participation more generally.

Making Work-Based Learning Work Link

Source: Jobs for the Future. 2016.
This report provides an overview of WBL in a career pathways context, defines five types of WBL experiences (internships, co-ops, on-the-job training, transitional jobs, and apprenticeships), and presents seven principles for quality WBL.

Promising Practices in Work-Based Learning for Youth PDF

Source: National Skills Coalition and the National Youth Employment Coalition. 2016.
This paper describes the benefits and challenges of four strategies for engaging youths in WBL: paid internships for disconnected youths, paid internships for at-risk in-school youths, paid community service opportunities, and youth apprenticeships.

Work-Based Learning for Youth at Risk: Getting Employers on Board PDF

Source: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2016.
This report summarizes international research on the benefits of WBL for at-risk youths and provides policy recommendations for engaging employers based on an examination of the cost-benefit analysis for WBL.

Work-Based Learning in California: Opportunities and Models for Expansion PDF

Source: WestEd for the James Irvine Foundation. 2009.
This report describes the purpose and components of WBL, offers short examples of WBL in practice in California, and proposes strategies for sustaining and expanding WBL programs.

Work-Based Learning Opportunities for High School Students Link

Source: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. 2013.
This report provides an overview of the literature and findings from case studies on WBL at the secondary school level, with a focus on three types of WBL activities: internships/cooperative education, apprenticeships, and school-based enterprise.