Work-Based Learning (WBL) has a unique place in schools and districts. For it to work, a genuine team effort is needed, from administration to teachers and counselors to the greater community. WBL goes beyond a job posting and beyond a sign-up sheet. It takes dedicated individuals to build a comprehensive program that reaches the ultimate program goal of exposing students to the world of work – and opportunities that match their interests, skills, and work values.

Every successful WBL program is built with standards of learning, experience, and outcomes. Through building purposeful, deep partnerships within the local – and broader – community, schools and districts can provide a program that benefits both students and employers for years to come. Here are some tips for educators as they begin to grow community relationships:  

1. Get Involved

Both district and building leaders, along with CTE teachers, school counselors, and WBL coordinators, should explore business-connected organizations within their local community. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Kiwanis, and even affiliates of the American Restaurant Association, American Marketing Association, and the like are open to educator members. Attending meetings and volunteering in the community through these organizations help to build relationships beyond the classroom that open doors to student experiences.  

2. Create Unique Programming Opportunities

It’s important to think outside the box when it comes to work-based learning opportunities, and this can lead to extended community partnership opportunities. When small businesses don’t have a traditional work-based learning experience available for students, discuss other ways they may be willing to get involved. Activities like field trip visits, class speakers, or individual interview opportunities continue to build your database of opportunities while meeting businesses where they are.  

3. Invite Community Partners to Visit Your School

Business leaders, community members, and industry professionals are often eager and excited to get out and about. Invite stakeholders to visit a CTE course in progress, tour education centers related to technology, trades, and workforce readiness, and/or speak to students and staff on the needs of the local workforce. Building a two-way street with community and industry leaders promotes programming and builds a bond for years to come.    

4. Promote Your WBL Program With Measurable Data

The impact of work-based learning programs can be vast, especially when it comes to recruiting graduating students for local employment and retaining members of the community. Tracking data such as the percentage of students participating in various WBL programs, the number of WBL opportunities available in the community, and the success of each program for job placement and college major matches not only assists with program planning but also helps to tell a story of the success of the partnerships built. Promote success to local media throughout the district and through employer recognition at the end of the school year.  

Building community partnerships doesn’t happen overnight, but aligning your strategic work-based learning plan to these steps will ensure that the right track is laid for the future. Learn more about how to plan a comprehensive work-based learning program in Kuder’s Work-Based Learning playbook, available now. Access the guide here! 

About the Author

Kim Oppelt, Ed.D is the Vice President of Career Readiness and Development at Kuder. Dr. Oppelt has over 20 years of experience in career and college readiness, both as a licensed school counselor and in educational technology. Throughout her career, Dr. Oppelt has worked with districts and state systems throughout the country to design and implement successful pathway planning processes, developed products and programming for K-12 students, and has conducted research on the experience of students as they develop their own career pathways. Dr. Oppelt has a B.A.S. in Health Education from the University of Minnesota Duluth, a M.S. in counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and a Doctor of Education from St. Mary’s University.