Get Familiar with Work-Based Learning

By Scarlett Howery
January 16, 2024

Get Familiar with Work-Based Learning

Employers are facing more complex challenges in attracting new talent and retaining talent than ever before. They need a pipeline of skilled and engaged employees capable of keeping pace with rapid advancements in technologies, but face high turnover in entry to mid-level positions. In spite of their best efforts to improve retention and attract the best talent, which may include the use of strong benefits packages and learning and development programs, high turnover persists. 

Work-based learning is an attractive alternative that can help employers bridge the skills gap and give workers the hands-on work experience and technical education they need to prepare for a new job or advance their careers. In this article, we will take a deep dive into work-based learning as we discuss the benefits to both employer and employee and hear from a couple of experts on the topic.


What Is Work-Based Learning?

When we talk about work-based learning, we’re referring to a type of experiential learning, or learning by doing, in which the student or employee learner is engaged in hands-on experiences that more effectively connect theories and classroom knowledge to real-world situations. In workforce development, experiential learning is most definitely work-based, and can commonly take on the form of an internship or apprenticeship.

Work-based learning is an attractive option for employers in the private or public sector because it can be used to solve the fundamental problems shared by most employers today, such as talent acquisition, employee retention, succession planning and upskilling or reskilling.

The concept can be attractive to employee learners as well, enabling them to see a meaningful opportunity to develop new professional skills within an immersive and confidence-building framework. If employees feel they are learning something on the job and a career pathway is being cleared for them, they may be more likely to step up to new responsibilities and stay on, rather than becoming disillusioned and seeking opportunities elsewhere.


Work-Based Learning Options for Employers

How can employers put the work-based learning concept into action? In partnership with an educational institution, employers have three effective ways to apply work-based learning to the challenges they’re facing. 

Internship Programs

Internships at the college level can be a good way to cultivate entry-level employees with specific skills, introduce them to your company’s culture and workflows, and hire them within a short period of time. Internships are typically paid programs that are a semester or two in length. A well-planned program can provide meaningful professional work experience and act as a formal screening process for possible new hires. 

The structured and supervised nature of most formal internship programs involves continuous observation, evaluation and feedback, intentional learning objective goals and even a competitive element that strengthens the program and allows the strongest candidates to rise to the top.



Typically lasting a year or longer, apprenticeship programs are emerging as an attractive work-based learning alternative that enables entry-level job seekers to learn job skills while working and drawing a paycheck. Here in the United States, apprenticeships have traditionally been viewed as paths to blue-collar jobs in the construction trades, administered through unions. With the prospect of incurring college-loan debt making many young people reconsider college, that perception is changing and apprenticeships are becoming a more attractive alternative. This is good news for employers. Rather than requiring entry-level candidates to have a previously-acquired set of skills, employers can convert entry-level positions into apprenticeship programs, utilizing workforce initiative funding from their states’ workforce development systems.  

DeVry University’s inaugural apprenticeship program placed Seper Karam in an apprenticeship with Randtronics, a Milpitas, California-based leader in enterprise encryption management. Seper is in the final year of his undergraduate program at DeVry, receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems with a concentration in Cyber Security.

DeVry’s apprenticeship program is licensed in five states (Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois and Texas) and listed in the National Apprenticeship Program Registry. Supported occupations include information security analysts, computer user support specialists, network and computer systems administrators, information technology project managers and statisticians.

In emphasizing the value of apprenticeship programs as a core component of work-based learning, Dr. William Phillips, Dean of DeVry University’s Colleges of Engineering & Information Sciences and Media Arts and Technology said, “The current technology labor market needs alternate pathways for addressing both short-term and longer-term skills gaps and future employee needs. Apprenticeships are a great solution to couple both formal instruction and on-the-job training to recruit, develop and retain talent. DeVry is well positioned to provide this solution with its multi-disciplinary curriculum options and career-focused education mission.”

Create a Succession Plan for a Diverse Talent

“The current technology labor market needs alternate pathways for addressing both short-term and longer-term skills gaps and future employee needs. Apprenticeships are a great solution to couple both formal instruction and on-the-job training to recruit, develop and retain talent. DeVry is well positioned to provide this solution with its multi-disciplinary curriculum options and career-focused education mission.”

William Phillips, Ph.D.
Dean, Colleges of Engineering & Information Sciences and  
Media Arts & Technology
DeVry University 


Classroom Project

Work-based learning can sometimes take place in the classroom. In this classroom-based model, an employer partners with an educational institution and brings their challenges into the classroom, where students approach the assignment in the same way they would take on a capstone course in a graduate degree program. In this environment, students work with a real-world scenario and the employer provides feedback based on their outcomes. Employers may also come away with solutions that reflect the students’ fresh perspective and unconventional thinking. 


What Are the Benefits of Work-Based Learning?

The benefits of work-based learning, to both the employer and the employee learner, are significant and sustainable. The concept can be applied to deliver solutions in several scenarios based on the employer’s particular challenges – talent acquisition, upskilling and reskilling or succession planning.  

In describing how enterprises with an increasing need to fill positions in IT and other areas are embracing the benefits of work-based learning initiatives, Scarlett Howery, vice president of Public Workforce Solutions at DeVry University, said, “Employers no longer have to go it alone to develop and implement work-based learning programs. Large organizations that need skilled talent are making investments in experiential programs like apprenticeships. They understand where their skills need to be and they recognize the effectiveness of upskilling through partnerships with institutions like DeVry University and their state workforce development systems.”

Benefits to Employers

Employers can deploy work-based learning strategies to solve challenges in acquiring new talent, upskilling or reskilling existing employees or to make strides in diversity initiatives. 

  • Attracting new talent: Work-based learning can be a powerful tool to provide solutions to the most challenging talent acquisition obstacles. Apprenticeship programs can help to build a pipeline of new talent with precisely the skills employers need and create a win-win situation for the entry-level job seeker and employer. 

  • Aligning coursework with skills needs: In upskilling and reskilling initiatives, employers can curate the work-based learning experience based on the skills they require to meet specific objectives and close what’s been called an activation gap. The employee learner can put the new skills they’ve acquired to work from “Day One” because they are already on the job.

  • Tapping in-house talent: Work-based learning can give employers an opportunity to “tap” untapped talent within their companies, reaching out to those within the organization who may be interested in moving into new positions, but lack the necessary skills and would not have the means to acquire those skills without such a program. Entry and mid-level workers who would otherwise be less motivated to acquire new skills can be shown a mutually beneficial pathway to success and career advancement, while remaining with an organization that is clearly demonstrating that it values their contributions.

  • Taming the recruit-hire budget: The cost-saving benefits of work-based learning can be considerable as well. The high turnover rates in entry-level IT jobs, for example, can result in employers spending the same recruiting and hiring dollars over and over again. They may have the same 20-30 positions open for more than a year because of the difficulty finding people with the right skills. By converting those entry-level positions into apprenticeships, the employer could use workforce initiative funding from their state and train those workers on the job as apprentices.  

  • Skilling up tuition benefits: A smart employee tuition benefits program is one that doesn’t require employees to pay for tuition and fees out-of-pocket (one of the reasons why many tuition benefits programs are underutilized). DeVry University’s Direct Bill payment plan can help reduce employees’ financial burden by allowing the employer to pay the tuition and fees directly upon successful completion of the coursework.


Benefits to Employees

Work-based learning can benefit entry-level job seekers or existing employees at various stages of their careers. 

  • Unlocking potential at the entry level: For highly motivated entry-level job seekers who may be lacking in specific technical or employability skills, work-based learning can open the door to a new career, enabling them to learn on the job and put their newly acquired skills to work right away. 

  • Advancing careers: We know the reasons why employees choose to work for an organization or stay with their existing employer. If they are given opportunities to move up within their current organization in a supportive environment, they may be more likely to skill up and stay on. DeVry’s innovative Women+Tech and NextGen Hispanic Scholars Programs help talented individuals from these vastly underrepresented groups to prepare for a career in tech. Benefits include mentorships, leadership training and early access to internships and job opportunities. 

  • Learning while doing: In this experiential learning environment, learners can improve professional skills and receive feedback in minutes. Compare this to the traditional classroom learning environment, where they often can’t know if they’re on the right track until they sit for an exam and get their score. 

  • Achieving a low to no debt education: Employees may be much more likely to embrace work-based learning and upskilling initiatives if they are offered without the need for them to increase personal debt or wait to be reimbursed for college tuition. Scholarships and grants can help make education more affordable for both eligible employees who apply and qualify as week as their employer organizations, and Completion Grants1 can cover the remaining balance for qualifying students in eligible programs.


How Can DeVryWorks Help?

DeVryWorks is the workforce development partner of DeVry University. We have over 20 years of experience in online learning with a range of degree and certificate programs in computer information systems, business and health.

Our undergraduate certificate and degree programs in areas of study like information technology and networking, cyber security, computer information systems, software design, mobile and web application development, data mining and analytics, and cloud computing are designed to help the workforce of tomorrow and their employer organizations thrive.  We can propose solutions to your most complex workforce development challenges. Contact us to talk about how a creative, next-generation work-based learning program could help you.

1Student loans, grants and scholarships are available to those who apply and qualify. Students may participate in only one DeVry University-based scholarship, grant or group tuition benefit program at a time. Those who qualify for more than one program will be presumed to accept the program with the highest reduction in by- session cost. Students who qualify for and prefer a different tuition benefit program must confirm, in writing, the alternate program in which they wish to participate prior to starting classes at DeVry. Scholarship and grant terms and eligibility conditions are subject to change. Scholarships are available to those who apply and qualify. Click here for more information.

About  Scarlett Howery

Vice President, Public Workforce Solutions

Scarlett Howery is the Vice President of Public Workforce Solutions, leading state economic development partnerships for DeVry University to ensure critical, strategic growth including the creation of multi-layered workforce solutions implemented and deployed through the university’s Advantage Academy, community college pathways, and DeVryWorks. Howery’s work drives community engagement and student enrollment in each market, as well as forms strategic partnerships to foster student learning and offer workforce solutions.