Work-Based Courses: Bringing College to the Production Line

At a Glance

Work-based courses are an innovative way to bring college to the production line by using the job as a learning lab. This toolkit provides guidance on bringing work-based learning models to colleges.

Published jun. 27, 2016


Area of Work
  • Meeting Employer Needs

What Are Work-Based Courses?

Work-based courses are community college courses that have been redesigned with employer involvement so that skills in the classroom are taught on the job as well. Community college faculty teach the academic course content, as well as some hands-on lab learning, while employer instructors teach additional course content at the workplace.

These courses are valuable because they provide students with opportunities to receive on-the-job training, earn college credit, and learn skills that can be applied throughout the industry. The courses also serve as a gateway for individuals who entered the workforce without a degree. Work-based courses can provide workers access to life-changing opportunities that advance their careers and education.

The courses are appealing to employers looking to retain a skilled workforce. By providing instruction at the workplace, employers can train employees in specific areas needed for the company’s production processes. Employers also build company loyalty with workers who are learning and receiving the training for free. 

Community colleges find value in work-based courses because they encourage student workers to further their education and pursue certificate and degree programs. 

This toolkit provides guidance to community college administrators and faculty who want to develop a work-based course model at their institution.

How Do They Work?

Designing a work-based course begins with identifying a community college course that meets an employer’s training needs and potential for learning in the workplace.

Once a course is selected, college faculty and employer representatives work together to identify the specific skills that will demonstrate mastery of the course’s learning objectives. Additionally, they determine the on-the-job work activities that can develop, demonstrate, and document competencies and skills. 

The college faculty then develops an assessment strategy that employer supervisors can use to evaluate a student’s performance. Both college faculty and employer supervisors serve as instructors, and students learn as much as possible through their job responsibilities, which are supplemented with classroom, online, or lab instruction.

The Benefits of Work-Based Courses


Students find opportunities for career and educational advancement while working. Their training helps them perform immediately on the job while also obtaining college credit and knowledge that can be transferred throughout the industry.


Employers that must attract, train, and maintain a skilled workforce can use work-based courses to provide employees with rigorous academic instruction in a format tailored to the business’s production processes and skill needs.

Community Colleges

Community colleges meet the needs of employers while maximizing value to students and maintaining academic standards. Work-based courses also encourage students to consider furthering their education at community college and complete certificate and degree programs.