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Delaware Jobs Program Spreads to Other States

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In 1978, when the youth unemployment rate was a staggering 45 percent in his state, Governor Pierre S. du Pont IV initiated Jobs for Delaware's Graduates (jdg), a comprehensive career-counseling and job-placement program aimed at general-education students, who seemed most likely to end up on the state's unemployment rolls.

With about $4 million in federal and private support, Governor du Pont established a nonprofit corporation to administer the program and hired about 55 "job special-ists" to work with juniors and seniors in eight of the state's high schools.

Each of the job specialists was assigned approximately 30 students, who were chosen on the basis of school records or faculty recommendations. The students were prepared for every aspect of job hunting, from writing a resume to proper conduct and appearance during an interview.

The results were almost as dramatic as the unemployment statistics the program sought to curb.

Of the 757 seniors who completed the program, 85 percent were placed in jobs with retailers, food chains, hospitals, and hotels, and 74 percent of those remained employed nine months later, said Bebe R. Coker, the program's director of administration.

The program was expanded in 1980 to include 22 high schools, and of the 1,200 students participating that year, 86.5 percent found entry-level jobs with local businesses and industries. Ms. Coker said the retention rate increased 10 percentage points to 84 percent during the second year of the jdg program. But, Ms. Coker said that the jdg program is not "magic. Ours is a preventive measure," she explained.

Many of the students served by the program, according to Ms. Coker, have never been involved in extracurricular activities at school before joining the jdg program's student activities. She said the program brings these students "out of themselves" and helps them "feel more responsible to-ward themselves and their jobs."

"The more you can get them to express themselves," she said, "the easier it is to get them to respond on the job."

The Delaware program has been so successful that Governor du Pont organized Jobs for America's Graduates (jag) in 1980 in response to a deluge of requests from other states leaders seeking a solution to their own youth-unemployment rates. The national organization advises state leaders who are interested in Delaware's program.

Model Potential Explored

The Delaware program's potential as a model for other states is currently being explored at test sites in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arizona, and Missouri. Virginia and Michigan have also been approved as test sites, according to Vinnie L. Carney, assistant vice president of jag.

"The only states we have not heard from are Alaska and Hawaii," Ms. Carney said.

In the two years of testing in other states, the program has improved and become more sophisticated. As a result, the average "positive-placement rate" has been about 85 percent nationally, Ms. Carney said.

With the Delaware model to follow, said Ms. Carney, "Arizona is not going to make the same mistakes we did starting out."

Because of its status as a nonprofit corporation, the national program also has been cited by Governor du Pont as an example of effective collaboration between the public and private sectors. During a Senate subcommittee hearing on the reauthorization of the vocational-education law in October, Governor du Pont recommended that private corporations composed of businessmen, labor leaders, and educators assume the responsibility for employment and skills training.

Employers are more receptive to being approached by Delaware's "corporation" because its prestigious board of directors "gives credibility to the program," according to Ms. Carney. Job specialists canvass the business community for jobs, she said.

Despite jag's success, Ms. Carney and her colleagues say they are working to improve the program and to avoid such problems as those experienced by Delaware job specialists who discovered they were not always welcomed at the school door.

"Initially, there were some educators who viewed us with reluctance," Ms. Coker of jdg said. "But we didn't go into the schools to take over someone's job, and now we don't have that problem."

Each of the test sites around the country, according to Ms. Carney, has encountered resistance from guidance counselors, vocational educators, and employment- and training-program personnel, who have "felt it was going to walk on their turf."

The jag program is geared to general-education students, who, according to Ms. Carney, are most often neglected by guidance counselors. "So we are not taking students away from those programs," she said.

Ms. Carney said the jag program is an "adjunct service" for the schools and students.

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