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Youth in Transition Toolkit:



Work-based learning

How can the youth see and try out work?

Work-based learning is an educational strategy that helps youth explore what they've learned in the classroom in a real-world context. All youth with disabilities should be offered a full range of work-based learning experiences while they're in high school, including coaching to learn how to perform specific tasks if needed. Studies show that youth who have paid work experiences during high school are more likely to have work success as adults. 

  • Awareness: Understand the meaning and importance of work-based learning in career development. Identify how to participate in work-based learning (such as school work-based learning programs or VRS/SSB, independently or with family support). Participate in career awareness activities (such as in-school work experience, simulated workplace experiences, workplace tours or volunteering).
  • Exploration: Identify work-based learning opportunities to support career exploration. Participate in exploration activities (such as informational interviews, job shadowing and service learning). Check out career and technical education student organizations (such as DECA, FFA, HOSA, BPA, FCCLA, or SkillsUSA).
  • Preparation: Participate in work-based learning experiences that allow for enhanced career exploration and practicing job skills (such as career-related competitions, practicums, student-led enterprises, career mentoring, internships and short-term work experiences).
  • Implementation: Participate in a paid competitive integrated work experience before high school graduation (such as an "intermediate job" or youth apprenticeship).

Work-based learning experiences

LEARN: Develop your knowledge

Learn how to support youth in exploring work-based learning experiences.

Work-based learning may include in-school or after school opportunities, or experience outside the traditional school setting provided in an integrated environment (to the maximum extent possible). All opportunities for work-based learning experiences in integrated settings must be exhausted before placing a person in a nonintegrated setting.

To ensure in-depth student engagement, direct employer or community involvement is a critical component of work-based learning. These opportunities are meant to engage, motivate and augment the learning process.

If a student with a disability needs support to participate in a work-based learning experience, a coach should be assigned to help the student learn to perform any assigned tasks.

Ideally, all students with disabilities receive a full range of work-based learning experiences within the areas of awareness, exploration, preparation and implementation while they are in high school — ultimately leading to a competitive integrated work experience or youth apprenticeship before graduation.

There are a variety of work-based learning experiences, including awareness, exploration, preparation and implementation. Learn about the types in this work-based learning experiences guide (PDF).

If work-based learning experiences are paid, youth with disabilities must be paid the same wages as youth without disabilities completing similar experiences. Wages should also be paid at the prevailing rate (or the comparable local wage for similar work).

Training stipends are allowed for youth with disabilities participating in unpaid work-based learning experiences as long as they're equivalent to stipends paid to youth without disabilities participating in these experiences.

Special Education funds may not be used to pay youth wages for any work-based learning experience.

Minnesota secondary schools are encouraged (although not required) to have formalized work-based learning programs available to all youth, including youth with disabilities. These programs are referred to as Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education. Approved school work-based learning involves a licensed teacher with a work-based learning coordinator endorsement license (or out-of-field permission) who closely supervises the worksite activities and is responsible for all the required activities and paperwork.

It's important for Vocational Rehabilitation Services staff and State Services for the Blind staff to partner with school work-based learning coordinators to ensure that youth receive individualized work-based learning placements in the community.

  • Seminar class: A class that includes safety training and career development before starting a work-based learning experience
  • Training agreement: An agreement between the employer, parents or guardians, school district, and the youth about how the experience will occur
  • Training plan: An individual set of competencies that the youth will accomplish by the end of the work experience
  • Site observation: Site safety review and progress check completed by the work-based learning coordinator
  • Evaluation: An employer's assessment of the youth's skills (which may also include the work-based learning coordinator's assessment of skills)

Schools can support experiential learning experiences (such as volunteering, job shadowing and business tours) outside of work-based learning programs for up to 40 hours per experience.

Supervision requirements vary:

  • If a youth is engaged in an experience for 40 hours or less, they can be supervised by any licensed teacher.
  • If a youth is engaged in an experience for more than 40 hours, they must be supervised by a licensed work-based learning coordinator.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) and State Services for the Blind (SSB) can support work-based learning experiences when school work-based learning services aren't available or don't fully meet the youth's needs.

All youth with disabilities should be referred to VRS or SSB. An initial meeting to review the youth's work-based learning needs should include the youth, parents or guardians, VRS staff, school staff and the waiver case manager (if applicable).

VRS/SSB typically engage contracted Pre-employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) service providers to help develop and support work-based learning experiences. Youth and their parents or guardians are encouraged to select their preferred local Pre-ETS service provider.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry provides the basics about state and federal labor laws in this 20-minute training video.

Review the pathways to employment training module from Transition Tennessee for tips on ensuring effective early work experiences for students.

Review the introduction to early work experiences training module from Transition Tennessee for tips on addressing the impact of aspirations and expectations on future competitive integrated employment, and why it's never too early for students to engage in work experiences.

DO: Work with youth

Find resources to help youth explore work-based learning experiences.

  • Organize a group of community members (including parents) who can help to identify and recruit local work experience sites.
  • Connect with other local agencies and organizations committed to preparing workforce members, such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Lions Clubs, Izaak Walton Leagues, Junior Achievement or iJAG.
  • Build a network of local community-based work experiences, including opportunities for one-day job shadows and longer-term work experiences.
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