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#AskExcelinEd About Work-Based Learning

• Melissa Canney

Your state has likely already developed an education-to-workforce platform to support statewide economic growth and ensure the future prosperity of your citizens. Work-based learning (WBL) should be a key driver of student career readiness in these efforts. It is essential that all states have a robust K-16 WBL continuum of experiences and exposure that spans K-12 and postsecondary.

But too often, WBL is associated only with capstone internships completed by high school juniors and seniors. It should offer much more.

High-quality WBL programs allow students to engage with employers and industries along a continuum of progressive experiences across K-12 and postsecondary. In fact, WBL is an essential element of career and technical education (CTE), and ExcelinEd’s CTE Playbook series highlights a state-promoted WBL continuum as one of eight non-negotiables of a high-quality state CTE program.

What Can a Progressive Work-Based Learning Continuum Include?

  • Career Awareness: Guest speakers, career fairs, online career exploration and workplace tours
  • Career Exploration: Job shadows, industry-led projects, informational interviews and mock interviews
  • Career Immersion: Internships, clinicals, school-based enterprises, cooperative education and apprenticeships

With statewide, cross-sector leadership and aligned policies that support high-quality local implementation, all students can experience a K-16 career pathway that integrates academic, technical and work-based learning experiences leading to success in the career of their choice.

What can this look like for an individual student?

Work-Based Learning in Action: Charting a Student’s Path to Career Readiness

Think through a student’s journey to career readiness. What should the student know and be able to do? What policies and supports does he or she need to be successful?

Cybersecurity Career Pathway

Knowledge, Skills and Experiences Leading to Career Readiness
Work-Based Learning
Elementary SchoolDevelops grade-level proficiency in math and reading.Develops basic digital literacy skills.

Participates in’s Hour of Code.
Joins worksite visits and employer presentations.

Conducts informational interviews.

Identifies IT, Engineering, and Healthcare as areas of interest.
Middle SchoolCompletes Algebra 1.

Maintains proficiency in all content areas.
Builds digital proficiency.

Learns basic app-building programming.
Job shadows at a local company.

Creates a 10-year education-to-career goals plan.
High SchoolEarns college credit through AP math, science and computer science courses.Completes a Cybersecurity CTE program of study.

Earns CompTIA Network+ and Security+ industry certifications.
Completes industry-led projects in CTE courses, resulting in presentations to employer partners.

Builds relationships with IT-industry mentors.

Completes a capstone internship with a local cybersecurity company.
PostsecondaryEarns an A.S. degree early because of credits and certifications earned in high school.Earns higher-level cybersecurity industry certifications valued by employers.
Works for local companies through the campus IT co-op program.

Creates a portfolio of projects completed and skills developed.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Begins career at an above-entry level position because of credentials and work experience and advances within the company.

Earns a dual B.S. in cybersecurity and M.B.A. in business administration with plans to open a cybersecurity consulting company.

New Resource to Help States Implement an Effective WBL Continuum

Assessing and improving state WBL programs and policies is hard work that requires effective leadership, a clear vision and sustained collaboration from a variety of public and private stakeholders. When done well, all the hard work is worth the investment and challenges: a strong state WBL program will allow states to be truly responsive to the needs of both employers and students.

ExcelinEd’s new playbook Developing High-Quality State Work-Based Learning Programs can help states design and implement effective WBL programs that radically benefit students and their state.

The playbook offers recommendations and resources to support states in developing and implementing high-quality WBL programs, including:

  • Steps for states to establish or strengthen a cross-sector vision, leadership structure and strategy for continuous improvement to support high-quality state WBL programs.
  • Core principles and models for a statewide WBL program definition and continuum that states can customize to meet their unique contexts and priorities.
  • Common longstanding barriers to high-quality WBL program implementation at the state and local levels as well as strategies for how to address them.
  • Steps to refine and strengthen existing state WBL policies and programming, along with current examples from a variety of states.

About the author

Melissa Canney

Melissa Canney is the Director of Innovation Policy at ExcelinEd. She previously served as the Executive Director of Divisional Operations and Communications in the Division of College, Career and Technical Education at the Tennessee Department of Education. Melissa’s experience in Tennessee included policy analysis and implementation, communication strategy development, grant management and data analysis related to college and career readiness. A Vermont native, Melissa earned a B.A in Sociology from Stanford University and an M.P.P. in Education from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her dog Moxie.