Educators are constantly striving to prepare their students for career success. Work-based learning helps educators fulfill this mission.

Xello’s most recent roundtable entitled ‘Using Work-Based Learning to Prepare Students for Career Success,’ focused on this topic with educators providing information about their programs, insights on how to formulate a program, challenges that may arise, and options for proceeding in the COVID-19 era.

Here are the educators who made up the panel:

Stacy Smith, Assistant Director for the Kansas State Department of Education. 

Laura Baker, Teaching Specialist, College and Career Readiness for Wichita Public schools.

Hannah Chan, Program Coordinator, Office of College and Career Readiness for Saint Paul Public Schools.

Below are the questions and key takeaways from the panelists.

Watch Webinar: Using Work-based Learning to Prepare Students for Career Success

If you’re venturing to build a work-based learning program, what are the components you need to consider in your initial strategy?

Developing a work-based learning program from scratch can be overwhelming.

Before diving in and creating a program, Baker suggested educators should “look internally first” as there are things happening in school that may not be counted or tracked such as in-class speakers or class trips. 

As a school system develops a program, it is also important to determine if it is for all students or some students. For Chan and St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS), they first started with a small group of students. When they ramped up the program to include everyone, they were able to apply what they learned. 

Today, work-based learning starts in pre-K for SPPS students. 

Worked-based learning is a continuum of various career related experiences,” said Chan. 

The process includes many partners which is why Smith emphasized listening and collaborating with community partners. That starts with an awareness of the available community resources. 

“Assess who your partners are and how to convene with them so that you have a shared goal,” stressed Smith.

Internships, a key element of work-based learning for high school aged students, can be challenging to line up. 

Baker added that preparation is the key to getting employers to agree to offering internships. “… if you can provide employers something that shows what an internship looks like and what their commitment is – we have an ideal schedule for a job shadow template – it makes businesses more open rather than simply asking if you would take on a student.”

At SPPS, the district has created an advisory committee made up of community leaders and businesses. Through this committee, educators have learned how important it is to have a career themed curriculum for all classes and content areas because students have noted they don’t see the connection between school courses and real-world skills. The advisory committee has offered input on curriculum and helped design relevant classroom projects. 

Watch Webinar: Using Work-based Learning to Prepare Students for Career Success

Was there anything you tried when building and rolling out your work-based learning program that worked well for your school district? Anything that didn’t quite work so well?

It’s important to get buy-in from all parties involved in providing work-based learning, including teachers. 

At SPPS, a couple of high schools used a creative approach to get all parties on board. Before school started in August, teachers and other school personnel were talking to a corporate partner who agreed to host them for a day. 

“We had breakout sessions with our business partners who explained what they are looking for in students and how teachers can help them,” said Chan. 

The partners also suggested some assignments that might be helpful to make connections for students. This experience helped teachers get a better understanding of why they were doing what they were doing and led to more buy-in.

There are many factors that determine if an internship is successful. “It starts with vetting work-based learning experience, and doing background checks,” said Smith. 

Chan added that it’s important to give students a voice, so they can share why an experience was successful or not. At SPPS, they do this via student surveys and focus groups. 

What recommendations can you offer on how to engage students to deliver work-based learning in a remote environment? 

With many schools operating remotely either throughout the school year or periodically, work based learning programs have had to adapt as well. 

“We have to dig in and do custom work to support our students’ success,” said Smith. 

One way to support that success is by simply talking to students. Baker believes talking to the students can be a real eye opener as they’re an excellent source for ideas on how to deliver-work based learning. 

“They have great ideas of what it looks like and what they would like to see.”

At SPPS, after many internships were canceled this past summer, the district pivoted and created a program called ‘earn as you learn.’ 

The program had various elements including completing an industry recognized course or certification. It was estimated that the program would take 25-35 hours to complete and the entire project could be completed online from home. If students completed the program, they received $300. 

“Students spoke highly of the experience,” said Chan. “The certificate made them feel like they accomplished something tangible, and it gave them something to put on their resume.”

Wichita Public Schools did something similar, and they plan on continuing it post pandemic. “We are going to offer something similar to our 14 and 15-year-olds for whom it’s harder to find work experiences,” said Baker. 

Can you share some key metrics or outcomes you track to assess the impact of your work-based learning program?

These days, data seems to be the answer for everything.

And in SPPS, administrators track an immense amount of data.

“One reason for doing this is to ensure all students have opportunities for career exploration,” said Chan. 

They found that outgoing students, as opposed to quiet students, were securing most of the internships. 

Other things that were tracked included wages, number of hours, and which pathway internship is most followed to determine where more partners are needed.

Career visits (meaningful or not) were tracked as well as who is earning college credits, where students go after high school and if they continue to pursue academics beyond high school. 

“Employers desperately want students to have soft skills,” said Smith. 

The state uses a rubric for student self-assessment, business and industry mentor assessment, and teacher evaluations so a student gets three different perspectives of feedback on their employability skills that align with the state’s SEL growth measures.  

What resources and tools can you share with our audience that can help them initiate and manage a work-based learning program?

Each of the three panelists mentioned Xello’s work-based learning module. 

“Xello’s work-based learning module is exactly what we need to engage and make opportunities available to students. It also serves as an organization tool for students’ IPS,” said Smith. 

Baker appreciated the tool because it’s easy to manage and input information. 

“Students can enter information into their experience timeline and storyboard and now everyone can see it. Because we all can see the information, it brings us out of our individual silos and enables everyone to do a better job of helping the students.”

“We use Xello’s work based learning to advertise student internship opportunities and teacher externship opportunities so teachers can see what’s available to them,” said Chan.

The year ahead may be a challenging one, but educators are banding together to create strategies to support students and provide them with robust work-based learning opportunities. 

Watch Webinar: Using Work-based Learning to Prepare Students for Career Success


Larry is an experienced educator having taught at both the K-12 and post high school level. Outside of the classroom, Larry is a freelance writer whose writing focuses on edtech and general education topics.