6.1 What Is Work-Based Learning?

6.1 What Is Work-Based Learning?

As a mentor, we are sure that in one way or another you have already made use of work-based learning in your work.

However, in this chapter, we are going to analyse with you some basic concepts in relation to work-based learning opportunities. We will go through different aspects of work-based learning in order to have a stronger idea of what it is from a theoretical point of view and how you can improve its usage in order to motivate your mentees to continue their educational path or to enter the labour market. In the “Useful resources” section of this chapter you will also find useful links to go deeper in the subject as well as additional readings and tools you can use in your work to deepen your knowledge.

So, what do we mean by the expression work-based learning?

Work-based learning (also called WBL) is an educational strategy that brings learners in a workplace environment (both a real one or through simulations and workshops). Therefore, it offers practical work experiences to better prepare the learner for the challenging world of work. It provides learners with the opportunity to put theory into practice and to explore what they have learned in the classroom within a real-world context. Last but not least, it gives them the opportunity to think about what they want to do after high school diploma/graduation or, in general, to reflect on future professional careers.


Some of the most common types of WBL are the following:

  1. Apprenticeship and traineeship: they constitute the first types of existing WBL. They help in acquiring professional qualifications. The learner spends a large amount of time in the work environment, undergoing practical-based learning to learn the job. Every apprenticeship / traineeship includes a training contract between the apprentice and the employer, which legally binds the two together for the duration of the study. Apprenticeships can give individuals the opportunity to earn an income while completing a qualification. The legislation of apprenticeships and traineeships varies among EU countries.
  2. Structured work-placements or curricular internships: they are meant to achieve a specific, often accredited competency and can be mandatory or optional, depending on the educational course.
  3. Work experience or non-curricular internships: they give young people the chance to train and prepare for the labour market providing the mentee with real-world experience within a profession. They are not embedded in a formal VET course. From the learner’s perspective, work experiences are a great way to develop their careers, on a paid or unpaid basis.

The literature also states job shadows, job fairs, workplace tours, formal interviews with employers as WBL experiences which may be used especially with high school students who are having their first contacts with the labour market. Among WBL opportunities for NEETs we can also include the EU Youth Guarantee, as stated in the OECD report “Work-based learning for youth at risk: getting employers on board”[1]

WBL bridges the gap between theoretical learning and practical learning (or learning by doing), helping mentees to learn more effectively.

Other benefits of WBL experiences include the improvement of the mentees’ awareness of career opportunities as well as the possibility to explore several professions;

  • The possibility to build relationships with adult role models other than families, friends, and teachers to increase mentees’ support network;
  • Acquire experience, competences and workplace skills also in view of a personal and professional development;
  • Set individual career goals based on workplace experiences.


Work-based learning may involve the following target groups:

  • Students of primary and secondary education undertaking work-oriented projects or tours in local companies;
  • Vocational students undertaking a period of work experience as a part of their training programme;
  • Apprentices;
  • Adult learners within (or looking to enter) the labour market, taking part in continuous learning with a view to improve their employment opportunities (our potential target group!);
  • Young people (our target group!) wishing to gain both hard and soft skills undertaking a WBL activity.

Of course, WBL brings benefits also to employers, even though they may not always be so noticeable.

In the case of employers, in fact, WBL may build positive relationships with the educational world by helping in the creation of better-prepared and motivated potential employees. In addition, employers learn about the knowledge and skills of today’s students and make contacts with potential candidates for job positions which might be available in the company.

Lastly, it strengthens employees’ supervisory and leadership skills thanks to their role as in-company tutors for mentees.

As a last point of our short overview about what we mean with work-based learning, it is fundamental that you are aware of the different actors which may be involved in a WBL activity.

They can be school, college, university, training provider or adult education provider and service provider workers: in this case they can be teachers, trainers, mentors/tutors, educators, career counsellors / job coaches and classroom assistants. In the company / enterprises they move from managers to personnel: human resources personnel and individual staff taking the role of in-company tutor or advisor.

To conclude, it is important to point out that at National level WBL policies are highly diverse and cover a broad variety of work-based learning practises. In some European countries, WBL has a long tradition, often within vocational education and training such as in Austria and Germany. There are other countries where WBL is recognised as a new trend such as in Ireland, Finland, France, and the Netherlands. As a mentor, it is useful for you to be aware of the WBL policies and practises of your country as well as how you can apply them to the Beyond NEET(D)s target group.


Reflective questions for the reader:

  1. Think about your group of mentees, how do you think they can benefit from a work-based learning experience?
  2. Which connections have you already got in order to implement a WBL activity for your mentees?
  3. Which additional benefits, excluding the ones mentioned in this subchapter, can you see for employers involved in WBL?