Nurturing Future Leaders: The Power of Work-Based Learning in Education

In the dynamic landscape of today’s workforce, industry leaders recognize the critical importance of employees equipped with effective communication skills, critical thinking abilities, and a sense of professionalism. Simultaneously, educational leaders are acknowledging the value of bridging the gap between classroom learning and real-life experiences for students. Enter work-based learning – an educational strategy fostering collaboration between educational institutions and industries to shape thoughtful leaders, enhance classroom engagement, and guide students toward fulfilling careers.

Work-based learning involves a partnership between education and industry, integrating meaningful experiences into the curriculum. Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs play a crucial role, incorporating industry advisory councils to provide valuable feedback, ensuring students gain relevant content knowledge, and facilitating application and practice of skills.

The state of Iowa supports a continuum of structured quality work-based learning activities, emphasizing three essential elements: academic preparation, the partnership between education and industry, and academic follow-up. Before the experience, students learn about the organization, set expectations, and simulate activities. During the experience, they directly engage with industry professionals, developing connections and experiencing the work environment. Afterward, reflection empowers students to summarize their experience, make career decisions, and demonstrate elevated professional skills.

AWARENESS(Introduction to Careers)Classroom Speaker ToolkitInformational Interview ToolkitCareer Immersion Experience Toolkit

The awareness phase of work-based learning introduces students to potential careers and aids in decision-making regarding coursework and future opportunities. Classroom speakers, a key component, bring industry experts into classrooms—either in-person or virtually—to share insights into their careers, daily duties, and offer career advice. To enhance engagement, students should familiarize themselves with foundational career knowledge beforehand. Informational interviews provide direct conversations with industry professionals, offering valuable insights not easily found online. Career immersion experiences allow hands-on interaction with simulators and activities related to specific career paths, emphasizing the connection between experiences and everyday responsibilities. Support for these experiences is available through the Iowa Intermediary Network.

EXPLORATION(Investigate Careers)
Authentic Project Experiences ToolkitCareer-Based Service-Learning ToolkitInteractive Career Event ToolkitWorksite Exploratory Event ToolkitJob Shadow Toolkit

The exploration phase of work-based learning propels students beyond awareness, actively engaging them in career experiences. Authentic projects immerse students in meaningful tasks connected to real-world industry challenges, fostering skill development with ongoing industry feedback. Career-based service learning blends community improvement projects with industry connections, allowing students to develop professional skills and explore related careers. Interactive career events offer hands-on exploration through age-appropriate activities, contests, and interactive features. Worksite exploratory events provide on-site career insights with interactive sessions, ensuring students engage with industry professionals. Job shadows, a focused career exploration, offer short-term exposure to real-world work environments, guided by formalized instruction and preparation. Support for these experiences is available through the Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning and the Iowa Work-Based Learning page. The exploration phase is a vital bridge from awareness to meaningful career connections for students.

PREPARATION(Prepare for Careers)
Professional Skills Workshop ToolkitDeveloping Professional Skills in CTE ToolkitMock Interview ToolkitSchool-Based Enterprise Toolkit

The preparation phase of work-based learning equips students with practical skills and knowledge crucial for successful careers. Professional skill workshops, involving industry partners, cover essential workplace skills such as resume writing, job shadow preparation, and workplace ethics. Mock interviews provide students with real-world practice, allowing them to refine interviewing skills and receive immediate feedback from industry professionals. School-based enterprises, like running a school store, offer hands-on experiences, simulating real-world business scenarios for authentic skill development. To ensure relevance, industry partners play a pivotal role in evaluating and guiding these experiences. The preparation phase is a key step toward students’ readiness for the professional world.

TRAINING(Develop Career Skills)
Internship ToolkitHS Internship GuidanceQuality Pre-Apprentice ProgramsIowa High School Registered Apprenticeship Playbook 2.0

The training phase of work-based learning immerses students in on-site learning, partnering with career and technical educators. Internships offer students structured experiences under industry professionals, providing opportunities for skill development, problem-solving, and decision-making. Internship programs, whether paid or unpaid, offer robust support from work-based learning coordinators, ensuring alignment with students’ career goals. The term “internship” replaces “cooperative work education” for clearer communication with industry partners. Pre-apprenticeship programs prepare individuals for apprenticeships, focusing on foundational skills and industry-specific knowledge. Quality pre-apprenticeship programs meeting specific standards can lead directly to Registered Apprenticeship (RA) programs. Apprenticeships provide on-the-job training with related instruction, offering apprentices-earned wages, industry credentials, and lasting one to five years. Support for these experiences is available through the Iowa Work-Based Learning Coordinators and the Earn and Learn Iowa website.

Whether in CTE programs or mainstream classrooms, work-based learning emerges as a powerful tool, enriching education and preparing students for future success. As we navigate the evolving educational landscape, the goal of work-based learning in the state of Iowa is to standardize and enhance meaningful experiences that can be transformative for every learner. 

Questions? Reach out to Chuck Buseman, Authentic Learning Coordinator.