The term “Work-based Learning” (WBL) is used to describe a plethora of approaches that allow students to learn through work. WBL is a vital part of Vocational Education and Training (VET), which prepares students to follow technical careers. As a part of Vocational Education, WBL can take place at post-secondary, further or higher education and is usually offered by schools or universities in cooperation with companies. There is no single definition of Work Based Learning, but it is mainly characterized by learning in a work context, and learning through practice.
Through WBL, students are given the opportunity to put into practice theoretical knowledge and apply academic and technical skills which they obtain through their education, by taking part in real-life work experiences. The school or university curriculum is integrated within suitable working environments, with the aim of giving students work experience and merging theory with practice. WBL aims to help both students and industries, by attempting to bridge the gap between learning and actually executing real-life work tasks, and by creating positive work attitudes and paradigms, as well as other employable skills and competencies.
Work-based learning can take the form of formal, informal or non-formal arrangements between schools and companies. The most common forms of WBL are apprenticeships, business field trips, cooperative education, entrepreneurial experiences, internships, job shadowing, mentorships, school-based enterprises, and service learning.
All of the above aim to give students the opportunity to explore the things they have learned in the classroom by exposing them to the working world and, thus, offering career guidance and experience as well as motivation and confidence. The workplace, under suitable conditions, can provide a valuable learning environment as exposure to real-life workplaces is necessary to ‘bring theory to life’. Moreover, employers are able not only to get in touch with students and future job candidates, but also to take part in their training process and help to prepare them for the challenges of the workplace. The World Bank highlights the need for ‘skills, not just diplomas’ (Sondergaard et al., 2012) and the European Commission (2010a) recommends strengthening of the many forms of WBL as a way to increase the relevance between VET Education outcomes and the needs of the labour market.
Work-based Learning has a plethora of benefits for the involved stakeholders and for society in general. Some of the benefits concern specific groups of stakeholders, whereas others are more general. It should be kept in mind that positive results and benefits occur, provided that certain conditions are met. In the following paragraphs, we aim to highlight these benefits and discuss these conditions.