Introduction to the Work-Based Learning Continuum

As a CTE director or school administrator, it’s your job to create, maintain, and scale an engaging and effective work-based learning program for your students. This can seem like a daunting task, especially in larger districts where you need a strategy for managing hundreds of students at a time across dozens of work sites.

Where do you start? In our upcoming series of blog posts, we’ll be outlining the key factors to a robust, sustainable workplace learning program. But first, it’s important to place any program in a broader context of the full work-based learning curriculum–one that can start as early as elementary school and continues with career exploration throughout the student’s entire secondary school experience.

What is the work-based learning continuum?

Work-based learning is an instructional strategy that focuses on applied learning in preparation for postsecondary education and careers. Students begin thinking about different career paths and exploring opportunities that allow them to gain industry experience, professional skills, and credentials.

Work-based learning can be used effectively for all levels of learners, from elementary school through postsecondary, and covers a continuum of activities that helps students transition from school to the workforce. Ensure that your students have ample opportunity to explore career paths they may not have previously considered. Create classroom activities like career aptitude tests that help students learn about vocational options and the expectations of the working world. Then, create relevant internship experiences that let students try out those vocations through hands-on experiences.

A high-quality continuum helps students develop the critical employability skills that will eventually help them not only find jobs, but be successful in their chosen career. Often, students can feel that their coursework is disconnected from the real world. So one of the most important aspects of work-based learning is connecting what students study in the classroom with the world of work they’ll experience after graduation. Students will begin to see real purpose in their course content, make connections to previous and future learning, and ultimately build transferable skills that can be used in a wide variety of career paths.

If a continuum is established throughout the entire K-12 journey, it’s important to show students how the career activities at different grade levels connect and build on one another. You can gamify the process using badging or seals, which help engage younger learners and allow older learners to quickly visualize their progress toward their goals. Grow and nurture your business partners by encouraging them to set up multiple touch points within the continuum–maybe giving an elementary school career day presentation, and also offering a semester-long internship for high schoolers.

A robust work-based learning platform like Transeo Jobs can be helpful to scale your program sustainably, especially as your business partner network grows and you need ways to automate communication and track business partner and student engagement.

The workplace learning experience

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While the continuum represents real-world learning activities for the entire K-12 experience, one of the most important tasks for CTE directors is managing the pinnacle of the continuum: the workplace learning experience, where students complete internships at real work sites. 

At Transeo, we have organized the main components of workplace learning into 3 parts, and identified the key activities for each part:

  1. Engage and Match
  2. Onboard and Manage
  3. Develop and Launch

In future blog posts, we’ll break down each of these sections and share tips on how to set up, grow, and scale your workplace learning program sustainably. Topics discussed will include business partner engagement, student evaluation and reflection, on-site safety, and much more that will help every student in your district plan for equitable, relevant postsecondary success.