Work-Based Learning Overview

About the Work-Based Learning Resource Center

The Orange County Regional Consortium (OCRC) Work-Based Learning Resource Center was developed to assist community college leadership, project coordinators working with the OCRC intermediary partners, and college faculty and their employer partners in designing, implementing and supporting quality work-based learning (WBL) activities for community college students engaged in career pathway programs in the Orange County region.

  • Why Work-Based Learning?
    • In today’s world, community colleges play a leading and vital role in preparing students to enter a rapidly changing employment landscape. Calibrated training and specialized skills are particularly needed for students to succeed in the Orange County region’s highly competitive, knowledge-driven industries. To meet this challenge, the OCRC has partnered with various workforce development organizations to ramp up workforce training for students from underrepresented backgrounds in sectors with a bright future. This effort aims to systematically create more work-based learning opportunities for students by engaging and inspiring employers and educators to invest in training our next generation of workers. This is especially crucial in a region that has become a major hub for emerging industries and new work models that are fueling future job growth. The OCRC approach in supporting students in career-related programs of study is deliberately focuses on the acquisition of 1) academic, 2) technical, and 3) core employability skills. Regardless of industry, employers consistently underscore that students must have experience and mastery in all three areas, with a growing priority on the development of employability skills. Alongside efforts to enhance the rigor and effectiveness of classroom instruction, new approaches are required to deliver authentic workplace experiences such as guest speakers, career days, career mentoring, workplace tours, informational interviews, job shadowing, mock interviews, workplace challenges, internships, work experiences, and apprenticeships in partnership with employers. This toolkit has been developed to help community colleges and their intermediary and employer partners deliver educationally rich and authentic experiences for students across the career development continuum.
  • About This WBL Resource Center
    • This resource center was developed by New Ways to Work, Inc. on behalf of the former Los Angeles Orange County Regional Consortium and its intermediary partners. It includes materials and concepts adapted from toolkits developed for the State of California, Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, New York City Departments o f Education and Youth and Community Development, New York State P-TECH and Earn & Learn East Bay. The audience for this toolkit is intermediary partner staff, work-based learning coordinators and liaisons, teaching faculty and program staff responsible for designing and delivering work-based learning opportunities to students engaged in area colleges participating in the LAOCRC effort. Participation in enhanced WBL activities will increase college and faculty awareness of the issues facing industry and facilitate a robust and practical connection between the OCRC partner colleges and an expanded base of employer partners. Employers will be able to effectively engage with education and help support the development of their future workforce. Students will be aware of, have experience in and be prepared for the careers of the future.

What’s Inside the WBL Resource Center?

The toolkit is designed as a work-based learning implementation guide for OCRC intermediaries, community colleges, and their partners. It provides an overview of work-based learning, activity guides and support materials for each of twelve WBL activities, and a collection of program fact sheets and implementation support tools.

  • Work-Based Learning Overview
    • Four documents provide a foundation for creating and implementing high-quality work-based learning activities for students. They include the following: Quality Work-Based Learning: provides an introduction to the principles of Quality Work-Based Learning and lays the foundation for developing any work-based learning experience. It includes definitional standards for WBL and describes the benefits of participation for students, schools, employers and community. The Work-Based Learning Continuum: provides a definition of the continuum of career awareness, career exploration and career preparation and the identification of the range of work-based learning activities across that continuum—whether conducted in the classroom, the workplace or community. Work-Based Learning Essential Elements: describes the essential design elements to be applied to support and enhance the implementation and educational value of any WBL experience. Work Readiness Skills: adopted from Earn & Learn East Bay’s WBL Toolkit, identifies the skills to be taught and demonstrated through any WBL experience. Mastering these skills, combined with meeting the necessary academic and occupational skill requirements for a particular job, indicates that the student is ready for a successful transition to work.
  • Work-Based Learning Activity Guides
    • The toolkit includes WBL activity implementation guides to help all partners design, structure and support learning-rich work-based learning activities for students. Each guide includes an activity fact sheet, plus checklists or tip sheets for coordinators, teachers, students and employer partners, as well as a fact sheet for employer decision-makers.

Quality Work-Based Learning

  • Introduction
    • This overview provides an introduction to the principles of quality work-based learning (WBL) and lays the foundation for developing any work-based learning experience. The WBL Quality Standards and the WBL Essential Elements presented in this toolkit serve as an easy reference of practices to pay attention to when creating high-quality, learning-rich experiences across the full continuum of work-based learning activities. These experiences can have powerful impacts on students as they build their knowledge of potential careers, explore areas of interest and develop, practice and demonstrate new skills. They can also help provide relevance and help refocus attention and effort on academic and occupational learning in the classroom.
  • What is Quality Work-Based Learning?
    • Activities that occur at a workplace, providing structured learning experiences for students through exposure to a range of occupations and career options, and classroom or community activities that incorporate employers as speakers, advisors, instructors or career mentors.
      • Students learn by observing and/or actually doing real work.
      • Learning in the workplace or from industry professionals supports academic learning and promotes the development of broad transferable skills.
  • Why Work-Based Learning?
    • High-quality WBL provides opportunities for the acquisition of three key skill sets—academic, technical and workplace professional skills—among students engaged in career-related programs or course of study at the Orange County Regional Consortium colleges. Regardless of industry, employers consistently underscore that new workers must have experience and mastery in all three skill areas, with a growing priority on the development of core employability skills. To support students in developing these skills, authentic workplace experiences are important when combined with academic study, classroom training and other college and career-readiness activities. Guest speakers, career days, career mentoring, workplace tours, immersive workshops, informational interviews, job shadowing, mock interviews, workplace challenges, internships, work experiences and apprenticeships provide real-world context and the opportunity to learn about the workplace and prepare for the future. Providing authentic workplace experiences and bringing employers into the classroom as part of the career development process can create powerful learning experiences and deepen the educational experience for students. WBL activities engage the employer as both a customer and a partner, providing developmental experiences for students in the workplace while helping build the future workforce. These experiences augment college-based classroom activities, offer the opportunity to learn about potential careers and to practice and demonstrate professional and defined work-readiness skills. The OCRC WBL Resource Center has been developed to address the need to provide a range of high-quality opportunities to students in Orange County, and to help area colleges, workforce intermediaries and their employer and community partners deliver educationally rich and authentic Work-Based Learning experiences to students.
  • Benefits for Students
    • Through work-based learning activities, students build awareness of potential careers in a particular industry, explore options and start preparing for their future. WBL provides opportunities for hands-on learning and the development of relationships with professional adult role models. Students acquire experience and build core employability and occupational skills while learning about the training or education required to succeed in specific careers. They are better able to understand real-world applications of academics and occupational training, and can answer the question, “Why do I need to learn this?” By integrating a range of workplace exposures and experiences with college-level classroom-based activities and guidance over time, students will often set their sights higher than an immediate job, and are likely to remain committed to their education though completion of their personal and career-related goals.
  • Benefits for Employers
    • Participation in WBL activities offers an effective and appropriate vehicle for employers to help build and retain their future workforce. Employers report an increasing mismatch between the skills required for entry into their industry and those of the emerging workforce. By opening their place of business to students and providing high-value work-based learning opportunities, employers can benefit from productive student work or gain a new perspective on an issue or problem. Employers can observe potential future employees in a “long-term interview” context and participate in shaping their future workforce. Students also provide access to a customer resource and point of view. An employer’s existing workforce benefits from more productive and engaged employees and from the opportunity to offer leadership and supervisory skills development opportunities to its current workers. Participation provides an opportunity for companies to support the local talent pipeline and help develop a highly skilled and productive future workforce. It builds awareness in the community of the employer’s role in the local economy and offers a public relations benefit.
  • Benefits for Partner Colleges
    • WBL extends the classroom to the workplace and brings employer volunteers onto campuses and into classrooms. It helps build awareness of the industry-identified skills to incorporate in the classroom curriculum among faculty and validates curriculum instructional models. It provides touchstones in authentic workplaces to help make classroom learning relevant and helps community colleges strengthen relationships with the community. WBL also provides opportunities for networking and relationship-building to promote future collaboration with employer partners.
  • Benefits for the Community
    • Work-based learning activities connect the community to colleges and local economic development efforts, promote civic engagement and help address community priorities and issues. Students complete community projects and are visible as productive and contributing members of society. WBL also helps grow a more productive and committed workforce, and demonstrates a commitment from our community colleges and employers to provide employment opportunities for local citizens.

Work-Based Learning Quality Standards

  • Quality Work-Based Learning is designed to promote enhanced learning, skill development and workplace awareness.
    • Work-Based Learning supports and enhances classroom instruction by providing a context for learning. It provides unique opportunities to practice and demonstrate new skills and assists in the development of workplace awareness. It helps build the skills required for specific occupations by exposing students to the multiple career options available at a workplace. Work-Based Learning engages students in their own learning and provides multiple opportunities for reflection on the experience, both verbally and in writing.
  • Quality Work-Based Learning is structured to be effective, safe, legal, and measurable.
    • Work-Based Learning provides authentic and relevant learning experiences that are safe, legal and in compliance with state, federal and local regulations. Learning objectives are met and measured through regular assessment and continuous improvement activities. Systems are in place to support faculty and program staff in designing and implementing quality WBL experiences and to make it easy for employer and community partners to participate.
  • Quality Work-Based Learning is supported by appropriate planning, tailored training and efficient processes.
    • Work-Based Learning initiatives have defined services and procedures to manage expectations and foster communication among all partners. Students are served through individualized work-based learning plans defined for each experience and are sufficiently prepared and supported throughout the experience. Part of this preparation is providing appropriate safety and health training for students and helping them understand their rights and responsibilities as employees. Employers and community partners receive support and appropriate training to enable their participation, and program staff are trained in how to design and deliver high-quality experiences.
  • Quality Work-Based Learning is connected to classroom learning, individual career development plans and sequenced education, training and workplace activities.
    • Work-Based Learning supports a community-wide vision and collective expectations for both academic and occupational learning. Experiences are designed to directly support academic and occupational learning, build core employability skills and provide a planned sequence of experiences that links academic concepts to real-world application. Students are guided and supported by an individualized career development plan, where work-based learning activities are sequenced and connected to the student’s next step.

Adapted from “Creating Quality Work-Based Learning”, New Ways to Work - 2002, 2010, 2016, 2018

The Work-Based Learning Continuum

The Orange County Regional Consortium has defined a sequenced continuum of work-based learning activities and experiences for all students that address the need for an array of career awareness, career exploration and career preparation activities to help better prepare the workforce of the future. This is accomplished through a series of work-based classroom activities, workplace exposures and community experiences over time. Classroom activities support and provide opportunities to reflect what’s learned in the workplace and community, and workplace experiences support the classroom curriculum. In addition, students are supported by and provided role models and guidance from adults in the classroom and in the workplace. Students are provided experiences that are commensurate with their knowledge, skills and abilities, and designed to support the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

All students are provided with a full range of opportunities throughout their engagement in career-related programs of study with the opportunity to participate in authentic work-based learning experiences at each level of the WBL continuum. Employers and community partners provide WBL opportunities that make sense for their organization, work for the business, and provide direct benefits to all partners.

The following are the three levels of the work-based learning continuum.


Activities designed to promote awareness of careers, workplace norms and employer expectations, as well as personal interests and aptitudes.

  • Guest Speakers
  • Career Days
  • Career Mentoring
  • Workplace Tours

STUDENT OUTCOME: “I understand what’s out there and am discovering the kinds of things I might want to do.”


Activities designed to promote a deeper understanding of potential careers, and to provide opportunities for an investigation of a particular industry, career or occupation of interest.

  • Immersive Projects
  • Industry-led Projects
  • Informational Interviews
  • Job Shadowing

STUDENT OUTCOME: “I'm interested in this field and am beginning to understand what it's all about and what I need to do to pursue a career in the industry."


Activities designed to provide an in-depth discovery of a particular career and the development of the skills and understanding of the education or training needed in a particular industry or occupation.

  • Mock Interviews
  • Workplace Challenges
  • Internships
  • Work Experience/Co-Op
  • Pre-Apprenticeship
  • Apprenticeship

STUDENT OUTCOME: "I know the kinds of things I want to do and am getting the chance to learn new skills and practice applying those skills”

WBL Essential Elements

The Orange County Regional Consortium partners have identified a set of essential elements to support the implementation of all work-based learning experiences. Coordinators, intermediary partners and community college team members can use these elements to help ensure that all activities are engaging, safe and learning rich.

  • 1. Conduct Effective Planning
      • Set clear goals and expectations for all parties
      • Ensure activity is developmentally appropriate (age, stage and grade)
  • 2. Prepare for Success
      • Prepare students, teachers and employers
      • Address logistics
  • 3. Identify Student Learning Objectives
      • Align to core employability skills
      • Link to college-readiness skills and academic standards
  • 4. Create Authentic and Engaging Experiences
      • Support effective participation of employers
      • Provide hands-on and project-based activities when possible
  • 5. Connect to Careers
      • Provide for exploration of or experience in a field of interest and exposure to a range of potential career options
      • Provide exposure to authentic work-world experiences
  • 6. Support Student Growth
      • Connect to an individualized career or training plan
      • Promote student interaction with adult professionals
  • 7. Ensure Activities are Safe and Legal
      • Address child labor laws, OSHA, Workers Compensation, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (including pay when required)
      • Reflect workplace norms, including safety and regulations
  • 8. Provide Ongoing Support
      • Provide orientations and support for all parties
      • Ensure that Work-Based Learning is appropriately staffed
  • 9. Provide for Reflection, Presentation and Feedback
      • Support student self-assessment and presentation
      • Provide opportunities for formal and informal feedback among all parties
  • 10. Connect to the Student’s Next Step
      • Connect the experience to the classroom
      • Intentionally sequence with future work-based learning experiences
  • 11. Assess and Document the Experience
      • Document student learning
      • Assess activity effectiveness

Work-Readiness Competencies

The following work-readiness competencies are a defined set of the core professional skills and behavioral competencies necessary for successful transition into the workplace. The Orange County Regional Consortium WBL Resource Center has identified these skills as benchmarks of demonstrated cognitive development, effective interpersonal and decision-making skills, and self-confidence in the work environment. Combined with the necessary academic and occupational skills, demonstration of these professional skills indicates readiness for work.

  • Attendance
      • Understands work expectations for attendance and adheres to them
      • Notifies supervisor in advance in case of absence
  • Timeliness
      • Understands work expectations for punctuality
      • Arrives on time, takes and returns from breaks on time
      • Informs supervisor prior to being late
  • Workplace Appearance
      • Dresses appropriately for position and duties
      • Wears safety gear when necessary
      • Practices personal hygiene appropriate for position and duties
  • Initiative and Self-Management
      • Takes initiative and participates fully in task or project
      • Initiates interaction with supervisor for next task upon completion of previous one
      • Identifies potential solutions or processes and proposes improvement strategies
  • Quality of Work
      • Gives best effort, evaluates own work, and utilizes feedback to improve work performance
      • Pays attention to detail and meets accepted quality standards
  • Communication Skills
      • Speaks and writes clearly and communicates effectively—verbally and in writing
      • Listens attentively and responds appropriately
      • Uses language appropriate to the work environment
      • Asks questions
  • Response to Supervision
      • Accepts direction, feedback, and constructive criticism with positive attitude and uses information to improve work performance
      • Completes tasks as asked
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
      • Relates positively with co-workers
      • Works productively with individuals and with teams
      • Asks for and offers assistance
  • Comfort with Diversity
      • Respects diversity in race, gender, and culture
      • Avoids the use of language that stereotypes others
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
      • Exercises sound reasoning and analytical thinking
      • Uses knowledge and information from job to solve workplace problems
      • Gives best effort, evaluates own work, and utilizes feedback to improve work performance
      • Pays attention to detail and meets accepted quality standards
  • Workplace Culture, Policy and Safety
      • Demonstrates understanding of workplace culture and policy
      • Complies with health and safety rules and reports emergencies
      • Exhibits work ethic, integrity, and honesty