Work-Based Learning Overview

  • About This Toolkit
  • Quality Work-Based Learning
  • The Continuum
  • Essential Elements
  • Employability Skills

About This Toolkit

The NYC Department of Education’s Work-Based Learning Toolkit was developed to assist school leadership, work-based learning coordinators, teachers and their intermediary partners in designing, implementing and supporting quality Work-Based Learning activities for high-school students. The toolkit is aligned with the Domains of College and Career Readiness and is intended to support larger school wide efforts of graduating students ready for postsecondary pathways and careers.

NYC DOE WBL Toolkit Complete Set

  • Why Work-Based Learning?

    There are One Million middle skills jobs in New York City and 46% of New Yorkers lack the skills to fill them. These are occupations that require education after high school but not a four-year degree. By 2020, 65% of all jobs will require some postsecondary education or training. There are significant skills gaps facing New York City’s fastest-growing industries and this will only continue to grow without comprehensive interventions.  Work-based learning activities that help students make informed choices, plan their educational pathway and provide actionable steps to take after high school are vital to student achievement and ultimately a positive connection to the labor force.


    The NYC Department of Education’s approach in supporting students in career-related programs of study is the deliberate focus on the three facets of student achievement needed for success in the labor force: the acquisition of academic, technical and 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, the approach requires new approaches to deliver authentic workplace experiences such as Career Days, Workplace Tours, Mock Interviews and Internships in partnership with employers. This fourth edition of the toolkit has been developed to help schools and their intermediary and employer partners deliver educationally rich and authentic experiences across the work-based learning continuum, in the classroom, the workplace and online through both remote and virtual approaches..

  • Toolkit Authors

    This toolkit was developed by New Ways to Work with a team of New York City Department of Education leadership, work-based learning coordinators and staff from Grant Associates.

  • Toolkit Audience

    The audience for this toolset is primarily NYC DOE school staff, work-based learning coordinators and liaisons, intermediary agency staff, teachers and program staff responsible for designing and delivering work-based learning opportunities to students in New York.


    Participation in enhanced WBL activities will increase teacher and school awareness of the issues facing industry, and facilitate a robust and practical connection between the NYC schools 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, and an increased number of students will be aware of, have experience in and be prepared for the careers of the future.

Inside This Toolkit

  • Work-Based Learning Overview

    Four documents provide a foundation for creating and implementing high-quality Work-Based Learning activities for NYC high school students.They include the following:

    quality work-based learning overview

    The Quality Work-Based Learning Overview provides an introduction to the principles of Quality WorkBased Learning and lays the foundation for developing any Work-Based Learning experience. Includes definitional standards for WBL and describes the benefits of participation to students, schools, employers and community.

    the work-based learning continuum

    The Work-Based Learning Continuum lists a definition of the continuum of Career Awareness, Career Exploration and Career Preparation and the identification of the range of WorkBased Learning activities across the continuum—whether conducted in the classroom, the workplace or community.

    work-based learning essential elements

    The Work-Based Learning Essential Elements are the essential design elements to be applied to support and enhance the implementation and educational value of any WBL experience.

    the 10 core employability skills

    The 10 Core Employability Skills are adopted from MHA Labs, 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 or position, 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 New York City schools and their employer partners design, structure and support effective and learning-rich work-based learning activities for students. Each guide includes an activity fact sheet, checklists for teachers, students and employer partners, as well as a fact sheet for employer decision-makers.  Required forms and a set of sample implementation tools are also provided.

    Activity Guides are provided for the following activities in this toolkit:

    Each guide includes:

    • WBL activity fact sheet
    • Checklists for teachers, students and project partners
    • Fact sheet for employer decision-makers
    • Required forms
    • Sample implementation tools
  • Employer Participation Options

    The toolkit includes a section on participation options to help employer partners select the activities that make the most sense for their organization and fact sheets and tip sheets designed to assist employers and their volunteers in supporting specific work-based learning activities.


    Read The Employer Options Section.

  • WBL Program Fact Sheets and Tools

    A collection of fact sheets and tools to support Work-Based Learning in the NYC schools:

    • Universal WBL tools
    • Program fact sheets and guides

    Explore The Downloadable Resources

  • Options, Tips and Tools for Remote or Virtual WBL Activities

    Each Activity Guide includes tips and options for conducting remote or virtual versions of the activity.


    A special section of the Toolkit is devoted to providing ideas, tools and optional approaches to the provision of remote or virtual Work-Based Learning opportunities to students.


    Read about Remote and Virtual Work-Based Learning Options

Quality Work-Based Learning

  • Introduction

    This overview provides an introduction to the principles of Quality Work-Based Learning 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 things 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. WBL allows students to build a bridge from adolescent roles in the classroom to adult roles in professional settings.


    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.


    Quality Work-Based Learning includes both remote and virtual options for most activities. Remote activities promote “live” student contact with adult professionals and front-line workers through the use of technology, while virtual activities are generally simulations and provide employer exposures through recordings, online research and related classroom activities.


    When offering remote and/or virtual options to students, it is important to pay attention to technology access and equity in the distribution of opportunities in addition to ensuring the necessary permissions, protections and guidance are in place to promote student safety.

  • Why Work-Based Learning?

    High-quality Work-Based Learning provides opportunities for the acquisition of academic, technical and workplace professional skills among students engaged in career-related programs or course of study in New York City Schools. 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. Mock Interviews, Career Days, Workplace Tours, Guest Speakers, Informational Interviews, Job Shadowing, Work Experience, Career Mentoring, Workplace Challenges, Work Experience, Internships 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.


    Work-Based Learning 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 school-based classroom activities and offer the opportunity to learn about potential careers and to practice and demonstrate professional and defined work-readiness skills.


    This toolkit has been developed to address the need to provide a range of high-quality opportunities to students in New York City, and to help schools, 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 and can explore options and start preparing for their future. Work-Based Learning provides opportunities for hands-on learning and the development of relationships with professional adult role models. Participating 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 school-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 Work-Based Learning offers an effective and appropriate vehicle for employers to help build and retain their future workforce. Employers report 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 a 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 to its current workers. Participation provides an opportunity for companies to support local schools 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 Schools

    Work-Based Learning extends the classroom to the workplace and brings employer volunteers into the school and classroom. It helps build awareness of industry-identified skills to incorporate in the classroom curriculum among educators and validates curriculum instructional models.  It provides touchstones in authentic workplaces to help make classroom learning relevant and helps schools and programs build 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 schools 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 community members of society. WBL also helps grow a more productive and committed workforce, and demonstrates a commitment from schools and employers to provide opportunities for local citizens.

  • Work-Based Learning Quality Standards

    Quality Work-Based Learning is:


    • Designed to promote enhanced learning, skill development and workplace awareness
    • Structured to be effective, safe, legal and measurable
    • Supported by appropriate planning, tailored training and efficient processes
    • Connected to classroom learning, individual career development plans and sequenced education, training and workplace activities


    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 and doing experiences that are safe, legal and in compliance with state, federal and local regulations. Learning objectives are met through ongoing assessment and continuous improvement activities. Systems are in place to support teachers 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 has 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 young workers and helping them understand their rights and responsibilities as employees. Employers and community partners receive support and appropriate training to enable their participation, and school 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.

The Work-Based Learning Continuum

The New York City Department of Education has defined a sequenced continuum of Work-Based Learning activities and experiences for all students that address Career Awareness, Career Exploration and Career Preparation. 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 learning experiences support the classroom curriculum. In addition, students are supported by and provided role models and guidance from adults in the school 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. These experiences are also compatible with their age and stage of development.


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 the student, the employer and the school. The following are the three levels of the Work-Based Learning continuum.

Career Awareness

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

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

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

Career Exploration

  • Industry-led projects
  • Informational Interviews
  • Job Shadowing

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.

“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."

Career Preparation

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

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

"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

NYC DOE has identified a set of essential elements to support the implementation of all Work-Based Learning experiences. Teachers and WBL coordinators 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, including access to and use of appropriate technology.
  • 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 exposures 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 and technology use permissions, protections and guidance.
  • 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 Workplace Learning experiences
  • 11. Assess and Document the Experience

    • Document student learning
    • Assess activity effectiveness

Top 10 Core Employability Skills

The following skills are a defined set of the core skills and behavioral competencies necessary for successful transition into the workplace. The NYC DOE has identified these core employability skills as benchmarks for all students to demonstrate through their participation in career-related programs or course of study in New York City Schools. Combined with the necessary academic and occupational skills, demonstration of these skills indicates readiness for work.

Work-Based Learning coordinators, teachers, employer partners and students should consider these Top 10 Core Employability Skills when creating learning objectives for a particular work-based learning activity, or developing assessments to gauge student skill acquisition.

MHA Labs Skill Building Blocks

Intent on increasing success factors for youth, MHA Labs has designed a common set of easy-to-understand 21st century skill targets known as The Building Blocks. The Building Blocks comprise 35 core social, emotional and cognitive skills deemed critical for college, career and life success, and includes skills from five broad categories: personal mindset, planning for success, social awareness, verbal communication and collaboration. From those 35 skills, 10 core skills have been identified as Core Employability Skills.

Top 10 Core Employability Skills

personal mindset

1. Needs minimal supervision to complete tasks.
2. Maintains focus on tasks despite internal (e.g., emotional) and/or external distractions.
3. Adapts approach in response to new conditions or others’ actions.

planning for success

4. Manages time to complete tasks on schedule.

social awareness

5. Recognizes the consequences of one’s actions.

6. Balances own needs with the needs of others.


7. Helps team members complete tasks, as needed.

problem solving

8. Identifies alternative ideas/processes that are more effective than the ones previously used/suggested.

+professional attitude

9. Brings energy and enthusiasm to the work.
10. Takes responsibility for his or her actions and does not blame others.

MHA Labs Skill Building Blocks, , used with permission.