Work-based Learning: Definition and Impact

Work-based Learning: Definition and Impact

July 21, 2017

Work-based Learning: Definition and Impact

By Charlotte Williams, Workforce Development Administrator

Community College System of NH

In “The Intern,” retired 70-something Robert DeNiro becomes a “senior intern” at a trendy Internet retail start-up headquartered at the site of a former phone book printing factory in Brooklyn, while in “The Apprentice,” a young Natalie Portman learns the finer points of the hitman’s trade under the reluctant tutelage of pro Jean Reno. Both effectively learn the tools of the trade through these on-the-job experiences, but the films do little to help viewers sort out the differences between experiences commonly referred to as internships, apprenticeships, co-ops, and other programs that fall under the heading of “work-based learning.”

The increase in work-based learning opportunities around New Hampshire, including those coupled with community college academic programs, is an encouraging example of the strong partnerships between education and industry, and the focus on retaining top talent by giving students exposure to our state’s wide range of career opportunities.

The National Skills Coalition (NSC) broadly defines work-based learning as “a type of job training that combines on-the-job and classroom instruction.” The overall work-based learning definition is an umbrella for a multitude of different terms and experiences. One constant is the fact that work-based learning can have many benefits for the mentored student and for the employer. 

To better understand work-based learning, here is a run-down of what some of these terms typically mean. 

A Registered Apprenticeship is a work-based learning model in a specific occupation that is driven by an employer. There are five components of a Registered Apprenticeship as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor. Every Registered Apprenticeship begins with Business Involvement and each program involves Structured On-The-Job Training, together with Related Instruction. As the Registered Apprenticeship proceeds each apprentice receives Rewards for Skill Gains with a graduated pay scale correlating to their increasing skill level. Finally, each Registered Apprentice upon completion of their program receives a National Occupational Credential, which is a certificate of proficiency in an occupation that is recognized across the U.S. 

There are many Registered Apprenticeship programs in New Hampshire. Core Physicians (an affiliate of Exeter Health Resources) offers Medical Assistant Office Specialist Registered Apprenticeships that the employer developed with the instruction taking place at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth. Hypertherm and Dartmouth-Hitchcock also offer Registered Apprenticeships. For information on the ApprenticeshipUSA-NH Expansion Grant awarded to the Community College System of NH to expand Registered Apprenticeship in the Advanced Manufacturing, IT and Healthcare Sectors, please contact Emily Melhorn,

An Internship provides an opportunity for work-based learning without the intern being obligated to work for that organization beyond the internship experience. Internships have greater flexibility in their design in that they can be paid or unpaid, full or part time, and their focus may not necessarily be on one particular occupation in a company. For students, internships can be a great opportunity to get real world experience in a number of areas, and may also be coupled with college credit. For employers, internships can be a way to identify potential future hires.

Within New Hampshire there are many internship opportunities through companies, non-profits, and even colleges.  Companies in many sectors provide internship opportunities for community college students across the state every year. For more information and a listing of some of the available internships in New Hampshire go to

An Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) is a broad term defined by the NH Department of Education as a situation where the student’s education takes place in a non-traditional setting and learning occurs through a number of different methodologies. Examples of ELOs at the high school level can include:  community service, independent study, online courses, performing groups, private instruction, cooperative education programs (co-ops) as well as high school internships and apprenticeships that may not be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. Co-ops are typically work-based learning models where students in career and technical programs are employed by local companies to obtain structured on-the-job training to complement the related instruction they are receiving in the classroom. Co-ops can be an innovative way to engage students and help them build their resumes and work-based skills outside of the classroom.

Reaching “65 by 25” in New Hampshire - the goal of having 65 percent of adults 25 and older with some form of post-secondary education by 2025 - is critical to our state attracting, retaining and growing existing and new businesses. The growth of work-based learning opportunities for NH students has the potential to significantly impact and increase the retention of young adults in our state. Work-based learning allows students of all ages to get an insight into a career or occupation which can be a key step in the pathway to a fulfilling career. We encourage employers to consider offering work-based opportunities, and NH’s community colleges can provide assistance in helping structure these to make them mutually beneficial to employers and participants.