After having the opportunity to participate in structured classroom exercises to apply employability skills, learners can benefit from applying the skills in an actual work setting. Structured forms of work-based learning—such as cooperative education and apprenticeships that combine authentic work experience with school instruction—have been increasingly recognized as a way to prepare youth for college and career. Particularly useful during transitions from formal education to the workplace, structured work-based learning also helps support better alignment of education and industry learning requirements. Work- based learning refers not only to cooperative education, apprenticeships, and internships, but also to any form of classroom instruction that brings real workplace cases or working professionals into the classroom or that helps students prepare for and reflect about learning from work experiences. Further, depending on the nature of the work-based learning experience, employers may count it in making hiring decisions.
While these applied practices assume that learners have had some basic exposure to past employability skills instruction, the educators and employers participating in this research repeatedly noted that it would be incorrect to assume that every student or new employee comes with adequate readiness to apply employability skills effectively. The early experiences with work-based learning are a time for experimentation and learning from mistakes—within reason. Further, working for outside employers usually involves careful preparation and screening. Both educators and employers use various techniques to gauge someone’s readiness for work-based learning activities: third-party referrals, direct observation, and gatekeeping assessments. They also use such data to personalize instruction for learners during internships, developing clear goals for the experience.
The research indicated that most educators schedule work-based learning later in the academic learning cycle (e.g., capstone courses) and most employers schedule such activities early in the workplace onboarding process (e.g., coaching and mentoring).