Breaking down the elements of Work-related Learning

Breaking down the elements of Work-related Learning

Work-related learning opportunities may be more important than ever before. Here are some of the ways students can learn by doing.

Work-related learning programmes provide precisely the kind of school-to-real-world connection many young people need to succeed.

Here we’ll break down some of the most common elements of work-related learning, which are designed to support all kinds of learners at any school or college.

What Does Work-related Learning Look Like?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines three frameworks for work-related learning in their 2020 report Improving Work-based Learning in Schools.

  • WRL outside of any school programme – this would constitute part-time employment entered into independently by the student
  • School-mediated WRL within the context of general education upper secondary programmes – these are internships or work placements that help students connect their studies to the real world
  • School-mediated WRL within the context of vocational upper secondary programmes – these are longer in duration than at non-vocational institutions and they focus on developing technical skills.

In theory, instructional strategies or programmes that connect the classroom and the workplace can be considered work-related learning. In practice, work-related learning most often takes the form of in-person exposure to a specific workplace.

Some types of work experience are:

Career Exploration

Students need a basic understanding of the careers available to them before they can select a workplace or a specific job to explore or even approach for a placement. Career exploration is mainly conducted at school, in the classroom or online, using a careers education and future readiness tool, like Xello.

As part of adhering to the Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Career Guidance, most schools offer careers education, information and guidance (CEIAG) that gives students a window into the options available to them. This often means setting up personalised profiles that help them identify their strengths and interests as well as connecting them to careers through one-to-one guidance sessions. Other helpful career exploration activities include:

Career fairs

Career days, during which people from local enterprises in the community share information about employment roles and answer questions about their jobs.

In-school case studies, role plays and simulations

Assignments or take-home projects in which students uncover everything from working conditions to labour market information to educational requirements for specific careers.

Workplace tours and field trips

Many secondary schools partner with local enterprises to allow students to learn more about the world beyond secondary school. These mutually beneficial arrangements offer students a firsthand look at careers in action and provide those local companies with the possibility of a qualified pipeline of future workers.

Career professionals or work experience coordinators may arrange guided tours of a variety of workplaces. These could include: hospitals, manufacturing facilities, creative agencies, or a construction site. On-the-job employees can walk students through various departments and have people in specific roles describe the work they do, how they came to be qualified for it, and how their job fits into the larger picture. By organising this type of exposure to the world of work, schools are working towards Gatsby Benchmarks 5 and 6.

Job shadowing in the workplace

When a student has identified a career they are interested in, the opportunity to participate in job shadowing can help them decide if it’s something they truly want to pursue. This type of work-related learning typically involves spending a day, a few days, or even a week observing one professional on the job.

For example, an aspiring journalist could follow a newspaper reporter as they attend assignment meetings, do research for articles, conduct interviews, and write stories. This one-on-one learning affords the student the time to see more than just a snapshot of a specific job. They’ll be immersed in all of the tasks and the working conditions it entails. They can ask questions and possibly even try their hand at some element of the job, as long as it’s safe to do so. It’s important to note that students can and should try job shadowing in a number of careers to allow them to compare and discover what feels like the right fit for them.

Industry mentoring schemes

Industry mentoring schemes help students learn more about themselves and their abilities, create connections in an industry in which they’re interested, and provide work experience they can put on their CV, Linkedin profile, and their personal statement.

Apprenticeships and t levels

There are 3 post-16 options for students to consider: a levels, t levels, and apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are mainly for students who have already chosen a career or industry they want to work in. The benefits of this type of work-related learning are that it provides students with more practical, hands-on knowledge and skills they might need to excel in a chosen field, which can help fast-track or propel them into the workforce.

Similarly, t levels enable a student to focus on a particular industry, usually a vocational one. T levels are offered by colleges and training providers as a path for students who have completed their GCSEs. They differ from apprenticeships in that students spend most of their time in the classroom as opposed to learning on the job.


Expanding work-related learning programmes for secondary school students has the potential to provide young people with meaningful experiences that help guide them to future success on their own terms. Work experience can help ignite engagement in hard-to-reach students, offer real-life skills, including communication, collaboration, and critical thinking that are useful at school and in any job, and can inspire a sense of connection and purpose. If your school or multi-academy trust is setting up or expanding a work-based learning programme, check out Xello.