Work-based Learning

What is work-based learning?

Work-based learning is a workforce development strategy that combines paid work experience and learning new skills. Provisions in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) emphasize the use of this strategy in WIOA-funded programs. In addition, work-based learning is supported through other public and private funding streams.

Why is work-based learning a best practice? 

Work-based learning is a best practice for job seekers who face barriers to employment, limited work experience, or have few marketable skills. Work-based learning has the added advantage of allowing job seekers to earn income while gaining skills and work experience.

Examples of program models that use a work-based learning approach

Transitional Jobs

Transitional Jobs (TJ) programs are employment strategies that help people overcome employment barriers and transition into work through subsidized, wage-paid, short-term employment that combines work experience, skill development, and supportive services. For example, Growing Home uses a transitional jobs model in their job training program which combines every aspect of farm production with classroom instruction. A list of Transitional Jobs programs funded by Chicago Department of Family and Support Services is found here.

On the Job Training

On the Job Training (OJT) is a specific type of work-based learning model that is defined and funded under WIOA. An agreement is negotiated with an employer under which the employer provides work-based training, a job, and a commitment to hire. WIOA funding is used to subsidize a portion of the wages for up to six months. In Cook County and Chicago, the process is governed by this policy from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.


Apprenticeships are jobs. Although apprenticeships may be commonly associated with areas such as construction and manufacturing, apprenticeships span many industries. The U.S. Department of Labor has a national database of apprenticeships you can search through by entering zip codes for local programs. For example, Harold Washington College partners with Aon to host a two-year apprenticeship program focused on careers in financial services, information technology, and human services.


An internship is unpaid or paid work experience that is time-limited. Internships are a good way of deciding whether a job seeker has an interest in the field relevant to the internship. For example, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership operates Opportunity Works which connects young adults in Cook County to businesses offering sector specific paid internships. Featured sectors include manufacturing, information technology, and transportation distribution, and logistics.


National Skills Coalition–Work-based Learning Page
National Transitional Jobs Network
Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership OJT Policy
DOL Registered Apprenticeship Database
Illinois State Apprenticeship Committee and Conference
Jobs for the Future Center for Apprenticeship and Work-based Learning