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`Translators' Seen Needed To Ease Transition to Jobs

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Washington

Helping inner-city students make a successful transition from the schoolroom to the workplace requires special expertise that does not exist exclusively in either of those institutions, said participants at a conference held here last week.

"Schools find it very difficult to build long-term connections with employers. Business doesn't know what to do with schools," said Xavier Del Buono, the president and chief executive officer of Workforce L.A., a nonprofit group that links employers with inner-city job-seekers in Los Angeles.

"We need translators," he added. "We need people who can walk on both sides of the street."

The one-day conference, called the Policy Forum on Connecting Inner-City Youth to the World of Work, was sponsored by the Committee for Economic Development and by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. It focused on developing partnerships between schools, businesses, and community organizations to smooth the transition to the workplace.

Ideas and strategies discussed at the conference will be included in a report that the CED, a research group in New York City that makes recommendations on economic policy, expects to issue early next year.

A draft of the report circulated at the conference downplays the role of programs that aim only at fostering work skills or academic abilities in favor of "a more holistic approach," said Sandra Kessler Hamburg, the CED's vice president for educational issues.

"That was the purpose of the conference," she added, "to help us think through where we go from here."

Barriers and Strategies

The meeting featured two panel discussions, one on ways of lowering barriers to employment and a second that identified successful strategies for connecting students with jobs.

Mr. Del Buono said many excellent programs already exist to provide students with the skills employers need. One such program, he said, is Food from the 'Hood, in which students from the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles make and sell their own brand salad dressing. The profits help finance college scholarships and operate the business.

Eve Hall, the director of school-to-work programs with the Milwaukee public schools, said her district tries to give students the skills necessary to go to college, to enter the job market, or to start their own businesses. That last alternative is especially important, she said.

"In urban areas, we are so often developing students to work for someone else," she said.

But Ms. Hall cautioned that even the best-prepared students often face skepticism from prospective employers.

"What do we really believe about the students that we're talking about today?" she asked. "As business people, do you truly want inner-city youths in your worksites?"

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