Work-Based Learning - Workplace Challenges Activity Guide

  • Workplace Challenge Fact Sheet
  • Coordinator Checklist
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Workplace Challenge Fact Sheet

What is a Workplace Challenge?

A Workplace Challenge is a Career Preparation activity where small groups of students (four to six per team) are engaged in solving a real-world problem or a challenge issued by an employer. The challenge is identified by the employer in consultation with the work-based learning coordinator and a classroom teacher. The structure of the challenge is based upon effective project-based learning approaches, enhanced by a focus on the targeted career pathway and an authentic problem or issue faced by an employer partner.


Students work as a team to identify possible solutions. They then create and deliver a presentation on their solutions to the employer. Designed to meet specific learning outcomes, workplace challenges are educationally rich, are tied to the curriculum, and help students connect what they’re learning in school with the workplace.

Workplace Challenges are designed to:

  • Provide exposure to potential careers in an industry of interest.
  • Develop problem solving and research skills.
  • Develop teamwork and presentation skills.
  • Help students make the connection between school and the workplace.
  • Inform career planning.

Workplace Challenges are structured to:

  • Offer students the opportunity to explore and practice in a field of interest.
  • Give students the opportunity to enhance the relevance of academic concepts through the application of applied knowledge.
  • Build knowledge about the education and training needed for a particular career path and entry into the industry.
  • Allow for Teacher/Employer interaction to support the challenge.

Workplace Challenges are supported by:

  • Classroom preparation, including research on the industry and participating businesses.
  • Employer orientation and support.
  • Opportunities to reflect upon the experience verbally and in writing.

Workplace Challenges are connected to:

  • Individual career development/training plans.
  • Future work-based learning activities.
  • Identifiable academic curricular goals
  • The student’s next steps.

Go Deeper:

  • Have several teams of students address the same challenge and reward the most innovative solutions through a competition—with the employer or a team of employers serving as the judge(s).
  • After the presentation of the solution and critique by the employer partner, have the team(s) revisit their approach, define a new solution and present it to the employer partner(s).
  • Sequence a series of challenges for the same team of students so the experiences build on one another.
  • Model aspects of the challenge after reality TV shows such as “Shark Tank” (with the students pitching their solutions to a group of employers).
  • Have the challenge flow into an internship for successful students.

For further guidance, forms, tools and assistance in managing a Workplace Challenge please see the New York City Schools CPP Tracking System.

Workplace Challenge Lite:

If the time and intensity of the workplace challenge described here is difficult to apply in your program model, consider a “workplace challenge lite.” Maintain key components of the challenge (employer issues a real-world challenge, students work together to define a solution and present to the employer) but identify a simpler problem with the employer that a small group of students might define over a single two- or three-hour session.

Workplace challenges are one activity in the continuum of authentic work-based experiences provided to all students engaged in career-related programs or course of study in New York City Public Schools.

Workplace Challenge Activities are recognized as an “accepted and valid WBL activity” by NYSED and the New York City Public Schools for specific credit purposes.

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Quick tips for Work-Based Learning Coordinators* to ensure a successful Workplace Challenge


  • Identify all interested teachers, help them plan their challenges. Share the Teacher Tip Sheet.
  • Work with the teacher to recruit and team students, create learning objectives and work with students to prepare for the challenge.
  • Design the challenge with the employer and teacher, making sure that it’s one the students can potentially address and that teachers can support. Typically, the employer presents a number of possible problems or issues that might constitute the challenge and you can help select and develop one that’s a good fit with the current focus in the classroom. Selection should also reflect the interests of participating students and the availability of resources to support addressing the challenge.
  • Encourage the employer to identify a real-world problem or issue—one that the industry is facing today. Make it real.
  • Develop a timeline for the challenge. Include when and where it will be issued, time set aside in the regular schedule for students to address the challenge, scheduled “touch” points with the challenge host, and when and where the solution presentation will take place.
  • Distribute and collect appropriate forms.
  • Address any additional logistical issues such as transportation, safety gear or access to equipment and tools.
  • Determine the employer’s preferred form and frequency of contact and define an ongoing communication strategy and feedback protocols for the challenge.


  • Observe and meet with students as they address the challenge. Make sure they’re engaged in the challenge and interacting with the employer as appropriate.
  • Share the Top 10 Core Employability Skills document with the workplace challenge hosts.
  • Support the challenge host in preparing to receive the presentation on the solution(s) to the challenge.


  • Document the workplace challenge. Review feedback from employers, teachers and students and summarize results. Make recommendations for improvements.
  • Help students update their Employability Skills Profile and think about any next steps they would like to take to further their career goals.
  • Work with teachers to coordinate “go deeper” activities to connect the workplace challenge to the classroom.
  • Send thank-you notes to employers and identify possible next steps with the employer.
  • Take pictures from the workplace challenge and provide them to the companies for their websites or newsletters. Ensure you have signed releases for all photos.
  • Publicize the workplace challenge and the businesses that participated by placing a story in the local newspaper or posting on the school or agency webpage.

  • Consider other potential public relations benefits and opportunities.

*In New York State, this includes certified work-based learning coordinators and others who facilitate, arrange and support work-based learning activities for students.

Sample Timeline

  • Beginning of the School Year: Identify interested teachers and brainstorm business partners who could participate.
  • One month in advance: Invite business partners to participate. Design the challenge with employer and teacher.
  • One week in advance: Send employers logistics and address any questions.
  • During Challenge: Observe the presentation and the challenge process in the classroom. Help teachers and employers support the activity.
  • At The End of Challenge: Observe the solution presentation ((ideally at worksite), engage in dialogue and receive feedback on the approach.
  • Note While it’s desirable to bookend the challenge with visits to the company, take care to minimize the impact on small- to medium-sized organizations.

Tips for Success

  • Engage in proper planning and preparation.
  • Address logistical details.
  • Communicate with all parties.
  • Maximize learning potential.
  • Focus on career preparation.
  • Connect to the classroom.
  • Provide support for students and supervisors.
  • Promote student reflection.