Benefits of Work-Based Learning Programs for Deaf Youth

This document explains work-based learning where the student actively participates in a work environment and summarizes the literature of why work based learning opportunities are important to all youth. 


Providing deaf1 students with opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom to career settings is important for preparing them for life after high school. Work-based learning programs use “community workplaces to provide students with the knowledge and skills that will help them connect school experiences to real-life work activities and future career opportunities.”2 Federal legislation, such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), emphasizes the importance of providing students with work-based learning opportunities. This document explains work-based learning where the student actively participates in a work environment and summarizes the literature of why work-based learning opportunities are important to all youth.

Why are work-based learning programs important?

Work-based learning programs include opportunities outside of traditional school settings, including internships and apprenticeships. Internships are temporary work experiences that focus on job skill development that can be paid or unpaid. Apprenticeships combine instruction with on-the-job experiences in a particular industry or field. Apprentices are typically paid a training wage.2, 3 Other work-based learning opportunities include experiences such as job shadowing, service learning, and cooperative education. Each of these experiences provide opportunities for students to apply classroom knowledge in a workplace, improve soft skills, and learn from professionals currently working. These experiences also help students develop specific work and job skills, such as using workplace equipment or tools.

Work-Based Learning Benefits for Youth

  • Work-based learning programs can help students develop new workplace skills, develop positive attitudes about academic skills, and improve motivation for academics and careers.4, 5, 6
  • Youth who participate in work-based learning programs experience improved communication skills, problem-solving skills, and self-confidence.7, 8
  • Early work experiences lead to improved postsecondary outcomes and specifically higher levels of long-term employment.9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17
  • Youth can experience greater job satisfaction by participating in work-based learning programs.18
  • Apprenticeships can lead to higher wages and better standards of living for people with disabilities.18
  • Internships provide on-the-job learning, as well as development of a professional network and references.


Work-Based Learning Benefits for Businesses

  • Businesses that participate in work-based learning programs can improve productivity and employee retention.8
  • Work-based learning programs can help increase workforce diversity, an invaluable asset, by providing businesses with underrepresented people who are not traditionally in their pipeline of workers.19
  • Businesses can learn about inclusion and diversity by including youth with disabilities in their work environments.20


What about deaf students?

  • Deaf students benefit from opportunities to develop workplace readiness skills that may not otherwise be accessible to them. Deaf students can learn more about potential careers, better understand their abilities, and improve their time management skills through work-based learning programs.21, 22
  • Work-based learning programs promote career success for deaf students, which leads to improved social capital and opportunities for engagement. These programs also provide an opportunity for deaf students to work with people they would normally not have contact with, as well as experience a sense of community.21, 22
  • Most hearing supervisors do not have opportunities to work with deaf colleagues. Work sites participating in work-based learning programs can improve their cultural competency, develop more positive attitudes toward deaf people, and increase their understanding of Deaf culture.23


Notes and References

1 NDC is using the term deaf in an all-inclusive manner, to include people who may identify as deaf, deafblind, deafdisabled, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and hearing impaired. NDC recognizes that for many people, identity is fluid and can change over time or with setting. NDC has chosen to use one term, deaf, with the goal of recognizing experiences that are shared by people from diverse deaf communities while also honoring their differences.

2 WINTAC. (2016). Overview of work-based learning experiences. Retrieved from

3 Wilson, P. G., Killam, S. G., Stazio, L. C., Ellis, R. B., Kiernan, N. M., & Ukachu, A. N. (2017). Postsecondary apprenticeships for youth: Creating opportunities for high demand employment. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 46(3), 305—312. doi:10.3233/JVR-170866

4 Kenny, M. E. (2013). The promise of work as a component of educational reform. In D. L. Blustein (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the psychology of working (pp. 273–291). New York, NY: Oxford.

5 Visher, M. G., Bhandari, R., & Medrich, E. (2004). High school career exploration programs: Do they work? Phi Delta Kappan, 86, 135–138.

6 O’Donovan, D. (2018). Bilateral benefits: Student experiences of work-based learning during work placement. Industry and Higher Education, 32(2), 119–128.

7 Bellman, S., Burgstahler, S., & Ladner, R. (2014). Work-based learning experiences help students with disabilities transition to careers: A case study of University of Washington projects. Work, 48(3), 399—405. doi:10.3233/WOR-131780

8 Federal Partners in Transition. (2015). What to know about work-based learning experiences for students and youth with disabilities. Retrieved from

9 Mamun, A. A., Carter, E. W., Fraker, T. M., & Timmins, L. L. (2018). Impact of early work experiences on subsequent paid employment for young adults with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 41(4), 212–222.

10 Benz, M. R., Lindstrom, L., & Yovanoff, P. (2000). Improving graduation and employment outcomes of students with disabilities: Predictive factors and student perspectives. Exceptional Children, 66, 509–529.

11 Benz, M. R., Yovanoff, P., & Doren, B. (1997). School-to-work components that predict postschool success for students with and without disabilities. Exceptional Children, 63(2), 151–165.

12 Joshi, G. S., Bouck, E. C., & Maeda, Y. (2012). Exploring employment preparation and postschool outcomes for students with mild intellectual disability. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 35(2), 97–107.

13 Papay, C. K., & Bambara, L. M. (2014). Best practices in transition to adult life for youth with intellectual disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 37(3), 136–148. 4 BENEFITS OF WORK-BASED LEARNING PROGRAMS FOR DEAF YOUTH © 2019 National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes Benefits of Work-Based Learning Programs for Deaf Youth licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International

14 Wagner, M. M., Newman, L. A., & Javitz, H. S. (2016). The benefits of high school career and technical education (CTE) for youth with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49(6), 658–670.

15 Wehman, P., Sima, A. P., Ketchum, J., West, M. D., Chan, F., & Luecking, R. (2015). Predictors of successful transition from school to employment for youth with disabilities. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 25(2), 323–334.

16 Carter, E. W., Austin, D., & Trainor, A. A. (2012). Predictors of postschool employment outcomes for young adults with severe disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23(1), 50–63.

17 Green, J. C., Cleary, D. S., & Cannella-Malone, H. I. (2017). A model for enhancing employment outcomes through post secondary education. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 46(3), 287– 291.

18 Office of Disability Employment Policy. (2015). Registered apprenticeship programs: Improving the pipeline for people with disabilities. Retrieved from

19 Showalter, T., & Spiker, K. (2016). Promising practices in work-based learning for youth. Retrieved from

20 Livelli, P. (1999). Community based vocational training for students with significant disabilities model: leadership and initiation. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 13(1), 45.

21 Cooper, S. B., Cripps, J. H., & Reisman, J. I. (2014). Service-learning in deaf studies: Impact on the development of altruistic behaviors and social justice concern. American Annals of the Deaf, 157, 413–427. doi:10.1353/aad.2013.0003

22 Burgstahler, S. (2001). A collaborative model to promote career success for students with disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 16(3,4), 209–215.

23 Martin, D., & Lytle, R. (2000). Deaf teacher candidates in hearing classrooms: A unique teacher preparation program. American Annals of the Deaf, 145(1), 15–21.

This document was developed under a jointly funded grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and the Rehabilitation Services Administration, #H326D160001. However, the contents do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the federal government.

© 2019 National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes

Benefits of Work-Based Learning Programs for Deaf Youth licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International

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