What it Means to Have a Truly Accessible Work-Based Learning Program

What it Means to Have a Truly Accessible Work-Based Learning Program

Preparing students for the ever-changing world of work means finding new and better learning experiences. 

Employers and future employees seem to be stuck in a Catch-22.

While employers are increasingly demanding employees with specialized skills, many recent high school and college graduates don’t have access to the experience they need to deliver. 

Discouraging statistics include:

  • 73% of employers perceived that it was “very or somewhat difficult’ to find qualified candidates for jobs
  • 34% of employers reported that schools have not properly prepared students for jobs
  • 80% of dropouts said they wished they had more opportunity to do real-world learning
  • 49% of recent grads did not apply to entry-level jobs because they felt underqualified

In response to these challenges, there’s an increasing shift towards a more practical, skill-based approach in education that emphasizes real-world experience through work-based learning (WBL) opportunities. 

Work-based Learning is Growing Rapidly 

Many school districts across the U.S. have integrated, federally supported career and technical education (CTE) programs designed to prepare students for real-world careers. Some states include new laws and policy updates to foster WBL program development and expansion. 

Indianapolis Public Schools has embraced WBL and is in the process of integrating Xello’s WBL tool. They partner with EmployIndy, a network of community organizations, employers, and corporate partners who provide job opportunities, soft-skill development, and job-readiness training to in-school and out-of-school youth. 

“We’re really trying to help students get connected to employers who are interested in hiring them in a paid position, whether in an internship or summer job experience or even an apprenticeship,” said Jenny Berry, CTE Pathway Director, Indianapolis Public Schools. 

While states like Indiana are laying the groundwork for WBL, many have a long way to go before they can provide a meaningful impact.

Stages of WBL Development 

High school WBL programs can be grouped into one of four stages of development:

  • Initial development: Early stages of WBL policy and program development
    Emerging: WBL policies exist but it’s unclear how well they’re working for students
  • Developing: Quality standards and data collection processes in place with a need to optimize programs and improve reach and equitable delivery 
  • Advanced: High-quality, established WBL programs seeking to achieve universal access for all students

Most WBL programs fall in the emerging and developing categories for a variety of reasons. While states are laying the groundwork for WBL, they still need to address key challenges to make a more meaningful impact. 

WBL Program Challenges

In an ASA survey, nearly 80% of high schoolers expressed interest in obtaining an internship, but only 34% reported hearing about available internships.

Key challenges of WBL programs across the country include a lack of widespread and equitable access due to factors such as:

  • Students having trouble finding and navigating available career-related opportunities
  • Dependence on off-campus internships (only accessible to 30% of students)
  • Financial constraints
  • Distant locations

With a shortage of information for high school students to access internships, and for employers to find interns, it’s hard for WBL programs to get off the ground. 

It’s clear that diverse, accessible opportunities are needed to engage a broader spectrum of the student population. A robust communication network is essential to raise awareness, spark interest, and facilitate engagement.

How Xello Can Elevate WBL Programs

Xello offers a work-based learning module as an optional add-on for U.S school districts purchasing Xello for Middle School and High School. Among other functions, it helps WBL coordinators provide all students with easy access to the work-based learning opportunities available in their community. Students get valuable experience and access to industry or community professionals in the field that most interests them. 

The benefits of Xello’s WBL program for educators and students include:

  • Improving student engagement with an experience that’s fully integrated into the CCR tools they’re already using
  • Breaking down location, ability, and access barriers so all students can benefit from transformative, real-world experiences
  • Providing all students with the opportunity to build a network of career mentors and to develop hands-on experience
  • Capturing and engaging tactile learners who may have a harder time engaging in a typical classroom setting
  • Improving students’ employability skills and building resume experience with early exposure to the world of work
  • Helping students see the relevance of their education and building more meaningful career goals and plans
  • Giving districts the support and resources to take their WBL program to the next level of program development

How WBL Works at Indianapolis Public Schools

In many ways, Indianapolis Public Schools is ahead of the game when it comes to WBL. Out of about 5,000 total students, just over 4,100 are enrolled in CTE pathways. In 2023, CTE concentrators made up almost 60% of graduates.

The district is actively presenting WBL programming beginning in K-8. “We see the whole understanding of college and careers to be a K-12 thing. It doesn’t just live in high school or start in middle school. We’ve got to start conversations with younger students,” said Berry.


The district’s robust advising infrastructure includes Future Centers that provide student support and interventions and WBL coordinators who connect with employers and support students interested in immersive experiences, such as internships and apprenticeships with the help of Xello’s WBL module. 

“We have a variety of ways to engage employers. We can request workplace tours, events, and guest speakers through EmployIndy. We’ve brought in employers to senior classes with a business problem that students are asked to solve, we’ve organized job shadowing, and mentors,” said Berry.

“We’re really trying to scale throughout the state to help students connect to employers who are interested in hiring them in a paid position, whether that’s an internship or summer job experience or even an apprenticeship. There are opportunities that allow them to transfer the skills they’ve learned in their CTE pathway to the workplace.”

When it comes to implementing Xello’s WBL module, Berry advises starting small. They initially rolled it out to a small group of students and employers they were already working with and are scaling it up from there. 

Her other tips include:

    • Identify who’s responsible for what. “On my team, my employer engagement manager and I are adding the opportunities [to WBL in Xello] and the WBL coordinators will enter at a regular cadence to see who’s requested opportunities. It’s up to them to follow up students.”
    • Create accountability systems based on key performance indicators. “One of our metrics involved measuring how many CTE concentrators have experiences in immersive WBL (defined as 75 hours or more in a location or worksite). Since the pandemic, we’ve seen increases in that space.”
    • Train staff. “This might look different for each group, but you want to ensure everybody knows that Xello’s WBL is available.”
    • Get the word out to students and families. “Help families get connected to the Xello platform so they can explore everything there is to see.”

Accessible and Inclusive WBL Programs Help Students Prepare for the Workforce

With so many barriers to overcome when it comes to providing access to WBL opportunities for all students, a centralized system can make all the difference. When students can explore WBL opportunities in their communities right in the tool they’re using to become future ready, they are on their way for being better prepared for a meaningful career. 

If you’d like more information on Xello’s WBL program, please contact us today