In a time where demand for workers is uncharacteristically high while unemployment hit its lowest point since 1969, strategies to equip high school students with the skills and knowledge for in demand careers has never been more critical.

Across the United States, educators, city and state government, workforce boards, and economic development associations are collaborating to ensure that high school students are exceptionally prepared for the demands of a dynamic workforce. Leading this charge is the state of Indiana, who recently enacted innovative legislation that sets a new standard for career readiness at the high school level. Indiana’s pioneering strategies are a potential blueprint for reshaping education and workforce development across the nation.

College Degrees VS Skills and Experience

Having a college degree used to be nonnegotiable for many employers; not anymore, there’s a growing trend towards eliminating that requirement to meet increasing employment demands in a tight labor market. Companies such as Google, Delta Air Lines, and International Business Machines Corporation have relaxed their educational requirements for many positions and shifted hiring to focus more on skills and experience. The state of Maryland recently cut college-degree requirements for many of their internal jobs—leading to a surge in hiring.

Building Career Ready Students Will Require Going Beyond Traditional Education

As technology and industry continue to evolve, the job market has endured rapid changes. To address this shift, the federal government passed key pieces of legislation to support work-based learning including the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

States have also responded by passing laws and updating policies to encourage the development and expansion of work-based learning programs in schools and communities in recognition that preparing students for meaningful careers requires a proactive approach that goes far beyond traditional education.

High school serves as a pivotal stage for introducing students to various career paths and cultivating skills that employers seek. By engaging students early in their educational journey, we can empower them with the practical skills and insights needed to make informed career choices. The demand for eager, skilled graduates is a shared concern and investment among educators, government bodies, and economic stakeholders–highlighting the urgency of building a career-ready student population.

The Core of Indiana’s Innovative Approach

While many states have implemented programs and policies to incorporate work-based learning into their education systems, Indiana’s legislation is at the forefront of the career readiness movement because its comprehensive plan integrates various stakeholders, including educators, government officials, and industry leaders to create a holistic framework for career preparation. House Enrolled Act 1002 not only emphasizes classroom learning but also places a significant focus on hands-on experiences and industry partnerships. By establishing clear connections between education and the workforce, Indiana is not only equipping its students for success but also setting an example for other states to follow.

Work-based learning is defined as “the alignment of classroom and workplace learning; application of academic, technical, and employability skills in a work setting; and support from classroom or workplace mentors.” 

Recognizing the multifaceted nature of career readiness, Indiana has fostered partnerships between educators, government agencies, workforce boards, and economic development associations. This synergy ensures that students receive a comprehensive education that is robust, and demand driven. Industry engagement plays a pivotal role in shaping curriculum, offering mentorship opportunities, and providing real-world experiences that bridge the gap between theory and practice. Check out our recent webinar which highlights the intent and purpose of Indiana’s new legislation 

Getting Prepared: The Basics of Work-Based Learning Implementation

While each state’s approach to work-based learning implementation is certainly unique, American Student Assistance has published a rubric to help policymakers and educators have an understanding of the basic components of implementation:

Overcoming the Common Obstacles

While the push for career readiness programs and legislation for high schools is promising, challenges such as access and equity, funding constraints, employer engagement and commitment, curriculum integration, legal and regulatory issues and others can be significant roadblocks. States need diverse strategies to suit local contexts and a collaborative effort involving educators, policymakers, and industry leaders—all of these are key to successful implementation. National initiatives like Pathways to Prosperity emphasize the importance of career readiness and provide resources for states to customize their approaches, fostering a nationwide movement toward a more responsive education system.

At TPMA, we have worked with state leaders, educators, and industry associations to design, launch, and implement initiatives for work-based learning and sector partnerships. We’ve also received recognition as an Apprenticeship Ambassador by the United States Department of Labor, a distinction presented for promoting, expanding, and diversifying Registered Apprenticeships and with regard to our lead role in strengthening America’s workforce. If you are thinking through the challenges to work-based learning initiatives, we would love to help you troubleshoot.

Work-Based Learning Benefits Employers, Students, and At-Risk Populations

Work-based learning programs offer a range of benefits and positive impacts for employers, students, and at-risk populations–fostering valuable skills, improved career prospects, and stronger communities. Here’s how:


  • Skill Development: Work-based learning programs provide employers with an opportunity to train students in measurable skills relevant to their industries. This leads to a workforce that is better aligned with local industry needs from the outset, reducing the time and resources required for onboarding.
  • Talent Pipeline: Work-based learning programs create a pipeline of skilled and motivated individuals who are familiar with company culture and operations. Employers can easily identify future employees and secure a pool of talent for recruitment.
  • Innovation and Fresh Perspectives: Students bring new ideas, energy, and innovative thinking to the workplace. Their fresh perspectives can lead to creative solutions and improved processes.
  • Community Engagement: Employers engaged in work-based learning contribute positively to their communities by supporting education and workforce development. This involvement can enhance the company’s reputation and relationship with local stakeholders.


  • Real-World Experience: Work-based learning provides students with hands-on experience in real workplace settings. This exposure helps bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, making them better prepared for the job market.
  • Skill Acquisition: Through mentorship and practical tasks, students acquire industry-specific skills that are often not attainable solely in a classroom. This enhances their employability and job readiness.
  • Networking Opportunities: Students build professional networks early on within industry, connecting with potential employers and colleagues. These relationships can lead to job offers, references, and ongoing career support.
  • Confidence and Direction: Successful participation in work-based learning boosts students’ confidence and clarifies their career aspirations. It helps them make informed decisions about their future educational and career paths.

At-Risk Populations

  • Alternative Pathways: Work-based learning programs provide alternative pathways to success for at-risk populations, including those who may not excel in traditional academic settings. This helps them engage actively and find their core strengths.
  • Skill Attainment: These programs equip at-risk individuals with practical skills that increase their chances of finding meaningful employment. This can break the cycle of poverty and improve their quality of life.
  • Reduced Dropout Rates: Engaging at-risk students in hands-on learning boosts their interest and motivation in education. This reduces dropout rates and keeps them engaged in productive activities.
  • Social Mobility: Work-based learning can be a steppingstone for at-risk individuals to overcome socio-economic barriers. It provides a chance to access better job opportunities and enhance their overall life prospects.

The outcomes of a career-ready education ripple beyond the classroom walls. Equipped with practical skills and industry insights, students become valuable assets to their communities and the economy at large. Employers gain a skilled workforce, students acquire practical experience, and at-risk individuals gain a pathway to greater personal success.

The journey to building career-ready students is driven by the collective commitment of educators, governments, workforce boards, and economic development associations. Indiana’s pioneering legislation exemplifies the power of innovative strategies in transforming education. As other states follow suit and adopt these approaches, the nation’s education landscape stands poised for a shift that will prepare students not just to meet the challenges of an ever-changing job market, but for fulfilling and impactful careers that contribute to the prosperity of individuals and communities alike.

For more information, contact author Steven Gause at