Work-based Learning

From the Field – SSTAR’S Work-based Learning Program

Work-based learning brings classroom learning to a work site, and also allows workers to be given credit for certain activities they do as part of their jobs. It incorporates content from actual job duties in training and education - usually offered at the work site - that leads to increased job competency while conferring academic and/or other credentials that support career advancement.

SSTAR (Stanley Street Treatment and Resources in Massachusetts) has successfully created a work-based learning program that not only supports individual workers' career growth and provides qualified job candidates, but also ultimately contributes to increased revenue.

Following a presentation at the Workforce and Organizational Development Strategic Plan kickoff event, SSTAR was asked to provide information about how to fund work-based learning initiatives without grant funds. Pat Emsellem of SSTAR provides this guidance:


Every organization’s situation, of course, is different so it’s hard to offer strategies that would work for every organization. A couple of basic principles that our experience demonstrated are:

  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
  • Focus on implementing one successful initiative, and it’s easier to build on it and find funding for future ones

1. Redirect budgeted staff training and development funds towards Work-Based Learning initiatives.

SSTAR has always had a very small amount of money budgeted for staff training and development – perhaps ½ of 1% of operating funds. We haven’t found that holding seminars or sending people to trainings resulted in changed practice/performance. But what we did budget, SSTAR prefers now to direct towards Work-based learning initiatives.

For example, in our outpatient counseling department we allocate $150 per counselor per year to attend seminars and we give them five paid days as conference days. Most of them don’t use it.

Some of our Master’s level clinicians couldn’t provide documentation of the necessary child/adolescent development course work that is required under the new BSAS licensing in order to treat clients 18 and under. We’ve diverted the outpatient funds mentioned above, and some other funds, towards holding a for-credit class in Child Development on-site. We also opened the course up to front line workers and others in the agency – several of whom became motivated to pursue college work as a result of their experience in Jobs to Careers – so they can get some of their credits done here on site.

2. Don’t completely discount grant funds to support Work-Based Learning.

Some grant opportunities aren’t that labor intensive to tap into, and sometimes it’s just having an idea of what you want to do and then keeping your ears open for funding opportunities.

a) Workforce Investment Board

Our first efforts to do the ARISE intervention and an Addiction Counseling initiative with Trundy Institute were funded by a grant the local Workforce Investment Board had secured to train healthcare workers.

The grant was originally intended to train hospital and nursing home CNAs and reception people in customer service, support GED work for low level healthcare workers in the area, and improve computer skills of healthcare workers. As the grant years went on it was apparent there wasn’t enough interest to actually get people to participate in the training and the WIB was anxious to bring up the numbers and spend the money. SSTAR Director of Staff Development Ray Gordon happened to be on the committee at the WIB and said he could come up with a proposal or two.

I had wanted us to do ARISE training for a long time but we didn’t have the money. When Ray told me, about the available funds, I wrote a one or two page proposal, and he gave it to them within a couple of days. It was funded and documented the success measures they needed for their grant.

There was still money unspent, so Ray heard from our staff that they wanted to get certified in Addictions Counseling but couldn’t afford the $3500 course fee at Trundy, nor the time to travel to New Bedford for the classes. So Ray quickly wrote a couple of pages proposal and gave it to the WIB and that, too, was funded. They were very happy with the results: the projects helped them meet their targets and demonstrated success.

b) Massachusetts Department of Labor Workforce Training Fund

We have also successfully written relatively small grant proposals to the Massachusetts Department of Labor Workforce Training Fund. The experience we gained from our first initiative motivated us to apply for the Jobs to Careers funds when they became available, and strengthened our proposal.

c) Partner with a training organization

It may also be possible to partner with an organization that does training in submitting an application for federal or state Labor Department, or WIB, funds. Sometimes training organizations will take the lead in preparing the proposal but need a treatment organization to provide the staff to be trained and you could tell them you wanted the project at your facility to utilize Work-Based Learning strategies.

If you have further questions, see these videos and this presentation about Work-based Learning or contact:

Patricia Emsellem MS, LADC I
Chief Operating Officer
SSTAR & SSTAR of Rhode Island
386 Stanley Street
Fall River, MA. 02720
508-324-3599