States Try Different Paths For School-to-Work Goal

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN accord with President Clinton's new School-to-Work Opportunities Act, states are busily tinkering with job training and education programs to prepare young Americans for the modern work place.

The act, signed into law last May, authorizes $300 million for states and localities to create programs that will integrate classroom studies, job training, and on-the-job experience to help students secure decent employment.

Governors in Boston for the 1994 National Governors' Association meeting July 16 to 19 discussed on Saturday how their states are moving forward with these new education initiatives.

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Participants acknowledged that American students who aren't college-bound fare poorly in the workforce compared to their West European and Asian counterparts. According to North Carolina Gov. James Hunt (D), the average age that United States high school graduates enter a career-oriented job is 27. In contrast, German high school students enter career-oriented jobs about 10 years earlier, says Anne Heald, executive director the Center for Learning and Competitiveness at the University of Maryland.

The reason, she says, is that unlike the US, which has a sprinkling of school-to-work programs, countries like Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark have entire education systems designed to prepare high schoolers for highly skilled jobs.

But with Clinton's new School-to-Work Opportunities Act, education and labor officials believe states now have a framework and some funding to initiate new systems similar to those in Europe. As part of the act, states were awarded planning grants earlier this year.

Federal officials are expected to announce today another round of state grants for the implementation of these programs. Grant winners are expected to include Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maine, and Michigan.

Here in New England, Massachusetts has already been awarded a $27 million, five-year grant. State officials say Massachusetts' school-to-work system will be managed by 16 regional employment boards that will work closely with high schools, vocational schools, and key industries.

States need strong private-sector involvement for such efforts to be successful, said Bay State Gov. William Weld (R) at the governors' conference.

``Our appeal to the business community is maybe one part altruism and one part self-interest,'' he said. ``What really attracts the business community is [the idea that] with a relatively small investment, kids contribute to businesses' bottom line.''

Other states, including Wisconsin, Oregon, Florida, and Tennessee, are running comprehensive school-to-work programs, but nearly all states have made efforts to start initiatives, says Robert Schwartz, program director for education for the Pew Charitable Trusts. Mr. Schwartz led a review of state proposals.

``In our view, this system needs to be built from the bottom up ... as well as from the top down,'' he says. ``We simply don't know enough to say there is one best way to create a school-to- work [strategy].''

Three types of approaches have emerged, Mr. Schwartz says. In one category are states, such as Oregon, that are completely revamping their education systems.

The second approach, like that of New Jersey, keeps the focus on job preparation for both adults and youths. The third strategy - adopted by Wisconsin, Maine, and Pennsylvania - incorporates the youth apprenticeship model of European countries. European apprenticeship systems are administered by employ-ers who use standards based on industry-wide governing bodies.

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) said his office did extensive research of Germany's system before implementing their apprenticeship program. Results have been dramatic, he said.

``Every one of the kids in our first apprenticeship class improved their grade point average almost a grade,'' Governor Thompson said. ``They were involved in more extracurricular activities, and usually all of them go on to technical colleges or have jobs where they are set up to be an apprentice.''

In Massachusetts, a school-to-work program for Boston public school students managed by the Boston Private Industry Council is considered a national model. In the four-year program, called ProTech, students spend their junior and senior years in high school and two years of community college learning job skills in either health or financial services industries.

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