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Schools Fail To Provide Skills for Work, Report Says

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Many young people entering the workforce lack the prerequisite skills because they have been pushed through school in general-track and vocational classes that offer them limited academic training and unsatisfactory links to the work world, a study released by the Education Writers Association concludes.

The report--"First Jobs: Young Workers in a Changing Economy"--says that the education system generally fails to provide adequate programs, such as apprenticeships, for the work-bound student, while supporting the college-bound.

It is based on interviews with young people in seven communities nationwide and was conducted by reporters affiliated with the association. The communities in the study were Birmingham, Ala.; Salinas, Calif.; Lawrence, Mass.; Detroit; and three towns in Iowa--Estherville, Milford, and Terril.

Reporters at each location visited unions, employers, schools, and youth programs to locate young workers. They then interviewed the workers, their parents, and their employers.

Several themes emerged from the interviews, a prominent one being that networks to find jobs do not exist for today's young worker.

Family connections, a traditional route to employment for the young, no longer appear to work for most, and many would-be workers are increasingly dependent on federal,state, and community support programs, the study found.

Many of those interviewed said schools did a poor job of preparing them for work. The teaching they encountered emphasized theory and the abstract, they said, while describing themselves most often as being more comfortable "learning by doing."

Many of the young workers said they enjoyed the training they received on the job much more than their academic training.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that teachers go from postsecondary education back to school without getting much experience in the work world. Workers interviewed said that, unless they voluntarily enrolled in vocational programs, they got little exposure in school to possible job opportunities.

Another problem cited was failure of growth in the service industries to compensate for the loss of stable, good-paying manufacturing jobs that do not require advanced training.

In some areas, the report says, the shift to a service economy has created opportunities only for a select few. The most disadvantaged--dropouts, minorities, teen mothers--often lack the skills needed to qualify. In general, it says, higher skills are now needed for jobs that pay less.

Copies of the report are available from Lisa Walker, Education Writers Association, 1001 Connecticut Ave., N.W., No. 310, Washington, D.C. 20036.--rrw

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