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Published in Print: June 5, 1991, as Programs Seen as Way To Induct & Non-College-Bound Into Workforce

Programs Seen as Way To Induct Non-College-Bound Into Workforce

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Greenfield, Ind--The nearby Indiana Vocational Technical College runs about 175 federally recognized apprenticeships in heavy-industrial occupations, from tool-and-die maker to millwright.

But it is on the playroom floor of the Show and Tell Child Care Center here that the college, known locally as Ivy Tech, is testing the latest twist on the age-old way of training skilled workers.

On a recent day, one boy, playing with toy cars, was boasting to friends of kissing his young girlfriend. Another child was slowly waking up from a nap as the class's young teacher helped a member of the class lace up his sneakers. From across the room, another youngster yelled: "Julie!"

Julie Prange, apprentice preschool teacher, was spending another intensive day learning a job that four years of high school and a stint as a teenage babysitter were not enough to prepare her for.

Ms. Prange, 23, represents the kind of worker envisioned by the organizers of a new apprenticeship model designed to prepare unskilled workers--or youths who finished high school with little college-preparatory study or vocational training--for increasingly demanding jobs in the nation's growing service industries.

Pilot apprenticeship programs are under way, for example, in child-care centers here in Indiana, banks from Denver to New York City, and waste-treatment plants in Maine. The child-care apprenticeships at Show and Tell, along with others in nearby Indianapolis, are financed through a 1989 U.S. Labor Department grant to Wave Inc., formerly the 70001 Training and Employment Institute. Ivy Tech administers the project locally.

Such efforts are being undertaken as policymakers take a new look at apprenticeships, either during high school or soon after, as a way of inducting non-college-bound young people into the workforce.

Like many American students, Julie Prange left high school with a diploma but no career ambitions. Her babysitting experience pointed her job search toward a child-care center, but the hectic routine and low pay led only to thoughts of finding something else.

After a shot at becoming a medical assistant, she found herself again drawn to work as a child-care provider.

Earlier this spring, after seven months in the apprenticeship program at Show and Tell, Ms. Prange said she was finally comfortable with her job choice.

"If I'd had more training to begin with, I don't think I would have gotten so discouraged and tried some thing else," said Ms. Prange, who spoke while taking a break from the playroom to comfort a feverish girl.

Jane Wakeland, Ms. Prange's supervisor and apprenticeship mentor, said she could see the results of the apprenticeship program, which she is using to train Ms. Prange and an other of the center's newest aides.

"The more attention I give them, the more they're motivated," Ms. Wakeland said, adding that the program helps by focusing on aspects of the job that many novices are not prepared for when they pursue work at a child-care center.

"The basic line is, 'I've done some babysitting, and I love kids,"' Ms. Wakeland said. "I want to laugh in their faces."

Beyond enabling the apprentices to work directly with children, the program allows them to explore such areas as communication with supervisors, parents, and coworkers; state regulations; and a variety of personal skills.

The Indiana child-care apprenticeships follow the general structure of the traditional apprenticeships Ivy Tech oversees.

Seasoned workers are given time off work to train as mentors and, in turn, guide new employees through a job-specific curriculum during scheduled breaks from the work routine. At the same time, the mentors serve as coaches, observing and critiquing workers' on-the-job performance.

Other apprenticeship models funded with $1.8 million in Labor Department grants have taken slightly different forms, with some concentrating on basic-skills instruction as well as job-specific teaching. The department is financing a total of nine pilot programs run by three organizations.

Regardless of differences in content and methods, each pilot is built on the same principle: Guided, on-the-job raining yields more capable workers.

The child-care model, like an apprenticeship program for recreational-vehicle technicians also developed by wave, is designed to over come the limitations of small businesses, where the problems of unskilled workers often go unaddressed.

While the vast majority of workers land their first job with a small business, such firms often have no training budget--and also worry that a trained worker would soon be looking for a higher-paying job elsewhere, said Norma Chandler Brown, director of wave's work-based-learning program.

At the same time, she said, unskilled workers often find themselves in over their heads and soon quit entry-level jobs because small companies have no systematic way of coming to their rescue. Those involved in the Indiana child-care apprenticeships voice similar views.

"When you're beginning, a lot of what you get frustrated about can be handled," said Kay Dauss, a teacher and mentor at the Funshine Factory Inc. in suburban Indianapolis, one of the participating child-care centers. "The turnover rate is so high be cause people think the job is easy, but it's not." Martha Baker, an apprentice at the other Indianapolis center involved in the project, the Lilly Center Day Nursery, said the program has given her extra confidence even though she has worked part time at the nursery for four years. "I think it's helped me more be cause I'm more mature, but on the same note it would encourage people as they start out," she said.

While the Lilly Center's trainees were not new hires, "there was a lot of room for them to grow," said Mary L. Wathen, the center's director. She said she was pleased with the results, both for the trainees and for the mentors. "Not only has this given them a little more prestige, it's given them a little more knowledge," Ms. Wathen said. "They say, 'Grow your own,' and we're trying to grow our own. We're going to use this experience to our benefit."

Although the Labor Department's apprenticeship pilot program is winning favorable reviews from its participants, other apprenticeship advocates contend that the program offers false hope. Many of the necessary ingredients for such collaborations, they say, would be lacking without the availability of federal funding.

"We believe there is a great potential for apprenticeship or apprenticeship-type programs," said Rob Fowler, vice president for economic and business development at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Fowler said he and other state officials were impressed by recent visits to German apprenticeship sites. However, he said, seeing the German youth-training program in action also showed the group how much groundwork remains to be done in this country.

"We're a long way from doing [what is needed]," Mr. Fowler said, "because it takes so much organization, and we don't know who the third party is that can make that work."

To date, the federal and state governments have been the catalyst for launching work-based-learning experiments--a role Mr. Fowler said businesses and professional associations must assume if the programs are to become widespread.

In the case of the child-care demonstration projects in Indiana, he said, "they were given a third party, and that's an artificial third party."

"The real challenge," he argued, "is how do we seek natural third parties to step in and do that."

Ms. Brown of wave said one consideration in developing the Indiana model was to select a group of small businesses that were geographically close enough to collaborate, but at the same time far enough apart that the program did not spark competitive pressures.

To give such a program momentum, she said, organizers would have to enlist a large enough group of employers to quell worries that the participating businesses would be producing trained workers for the rest of the market.

"The goal is to expand the concept and impact industry standards,'' Ms. Brown said, adding that one of the main challenges is developing a program that could be used by a wide range of employers.

Mr. Fowler of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said that without the active participation of trade groups--which in many occupations serve more as government-affairs offices than as professional-training arms--the new apprenticeships would likely amount to only a limit ed training strategy, like "tech prep" programs linking high-school and post-secondary curricula and other state vocational-training efforts.

"I think what we clearly have done is identify the problem," Mr. Fowler said. "Employers understand that we have real problems with that general-track population," which makes up a large part of most high-school graduating classes.

"What we really don't understand is the solution to that, and [apprenticeship] is one of the potential solutions," he said.

Others, however, reason that the time may be right for the spread of apprenticeship programs, and that new models should be established and tested.

"This is not something that is standard practice for any sector in this country," said Hilary Pennington, president of Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group that is coordinating an apprenticeship demonstration project now getting underway in Arkansas. She said that by capitalizing on the new interest in apprenticeships to build model pro grams, training officials can later show businesses the results.

"Then we can answer some of the questions," she said.

To explain the concept of the Arkansas project to businesses, officials there had scheduled a daylong conference with government officials and business leaders for late last month. The organizers are also considering a summer teaching institute in 1992 that would inform teachers about the programs, which are designed to begin in the 11th grade and continue after graduation.

"We have to show people what this means," Ms. Pennington said. ''It's very easy for people to think that a traditional cooperative-learning program is enough, but that's not what this is all about."

Another variation on the apprenticeship model is being tried in New York City, where the Emigrant Savings Bank has adopted a compact, six-week program to train beginning bank tellers, who often lack adequate reading and writing skills. The project, funded through the Labor Department, was designed by the National Alliance of Business.

"Before, we would train [tellers] for two weeks and drop them into the real world," said Louise Briscoe, the bank's vice president of human resources.

"They're not used to being in a learning environment," she continued. "Although we require a school diploma or [a General Educational Development diploma], school never was their forte."

"They think the job will be easy and, nowadays, the job is not easy," Ms. Briscoe said. "In the workplace, we're paying the price for their growing up in a deprived environment that was lacking in intellectual stimulation, discipline, and a work ethic."

A two-week basic-skills program, in which students also observe tellers at work, has been added to the two weeks of technical training the bank has traditionally offered.

The classroom work is then fol lowed by two weeks of work with a mentor before the employees are put " to work on their own. Out of the initial six-member class, Ms. Briscoe said one person left and none were terminated, compared with the bank's usual 40 percent dropout rate ' in the training program.

Bill Browning, manager of research and education for the American Bankers Association's American Institute of Banking, said that teller-training models now being tested in six cities across the country could eventually help close the skills gap for entry-level workers in the field.

"I see it as a step in a new direction in training," he said. "A lot of people are interested in the idea of training becoming the function of supervisors," which can reduce training costs and make it more personalized.

The banking institute is eager to support such a program, which could work in a rural branch bank as easily as an urban office, Mr. Browning said. But, he cautioned, it is too early to know whether the apprenticeship model will become the answer.

"We'll wait and see how the evaluations turn out and figure out where we go," Mr. Browning said. "Maybe this is only one step toward performance-based training."

"It's hard to tell where it will go," he said.

Vol. 10, Issue 37, Page 19

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