Job hunting: a grim chore for the young and unskilled

Nearly 4 million young people who need work may not find jobs this year. This group is composed of women, dropouts, minority groups, and the poor. A US Bureau Labor Statistics report for April showed a 16.2 percent rate among young people (the adult jobless rate is 7.0 percent), with the rate among minorities much higher. According to a report by the Vice-President's Task Force on Youth Employment, the problem will get even worse.

William Byrd Jr., a 17-year-old high school dropout, knows what it is like to be young and unemployed. Speaking at a Boston forum sponsored by the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, he said:

"I was frustrated, angry, but most of all confused. I didn't know why I had failed school, or why school had failed me. It was difficult to find a job without a high school diploma, and when I finally did, I found I couldn't perform many of the duties that were a part of the job because I didn't have the math, reading, and writing skills."

A youth employment training program helped him develop the skills and self- confidence he needed to succeed. Eight months after joining, he is the manager of shipping and receiving for a distributor of pneumatic components.

The US Department of Labor estimates 66.4 million new jobs will open up between 1978 and 1990, but only 16.2 million will be blue-collar jobs. The vast majority -- 49 million -- will be more technical white-collar jobs where communications and technical skills will be the keys to advancement. A high school diploma will be a must, with promotion depending more on education than seniority.

But a recent survey of 19-year-olds shows that two out of every 10 white youths, one out of every four black youths, and two out of every five Hispanic youths do not have a h igh school diploma. And often employers report that even those who do are so lacking in skills that they cannot fill out application forms correctly.

Many schools, community agencies, and businesses are trying to do something about this. In Boston, young people in an experimental "entitlement" program established by the Youth Employment and Demonstration Projects Act of 1977 (YEDPA) spend alternate weeks in school and in on-the-job training programs. They are paid for the jobs they do, and receive counseling and remedial academic and carrer-related instruction.

Another type of career education program in rural Georgia has students learning math solely by using the tools, measurements, and procedures used on the job.

Though the majority of jobs are found in the private sector, many people feel more should be done by the federal government. The National Youth Advocacy Coalition made up of 20 youth-serving agencies, is holding demonstration in 50 cities this month to dramatize the problem.

Some business leaders -- such as Peter H. McCormick, president of New England Merchants National Bank -- are also aware of the critical nature of the problem.

"While recession and inflation dominate the public mind, youth unemploymnet simmers on the back burner," Mr. McCormick says.

There are variety of proposals in congress to deal with with problem. One bill introduced by Sen. Jacob K. Javits (r) of New York would consolidate current Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) youth programs into a single authorization and would create new collaborative education-employment programs.

Another by Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D) of California would, among other things, expand existing YEPDA programs, establish a youth component within the US Employment Service, and enlarge the private initiative program of CETA to link private sector activities more closely with the youth entitlement program.

The White House, too, has submitted a proposal -- the Youth Act of 1980 -- embodying many of the recommendations made by the Vice-President's Task Force on Youth Employment. It calls for a $1 billion Youth Employment and Training Program to be implemented by the Department of Labor and a $1 billion Youth Education and Training Program to be implemented by the Department of Education.

The first program would provide education, work experience, training, labor market information, and other services to as many as 450,000 more 16- to 21 -year-olds than are served by current programs.

The second program would provide basic education and employment skills for up to 1 million low-achieving junior and senior high school students in about 3,000 of the poorest urban and rural school districts around the country.

Task force member William Keller calls the report's recommendations "the ideal type of program we would like to have." He admits the Youth Act may not have a chance of passing in this session of Congress.

But William Spring, associate director for Human Resources with the White House Domestic Policy staff, is encouraged that the bill cleared the full committee of the House with only minor changes. Admitting the difficulty of getting new legislation, he adds that the House action, plus a favorable response from Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island, chairman of a Senate education subcommittee, leaves him hopeful.

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