A Guide to Programs Designed To Address School-to-Work Transition

By Lonnie Harp — June 05, 1991 3 min read

Efforts to upgrade the academic and job skills of students who plan to enter the work force immediately after high school have spawned a wide array of strategies outside traditional vocational-education programs. Some are geared heavily to on-the-job learning; others are designed to promote a more general understanding of work by enhancing youths’ reasoning and teamwork abilities while encouraging continuing education.

Apprenticeship. Under the model prevailing in the United States, apprenticeship is generally a training program sponsored by organized labor that prepares young workers for specific jobs. Most often used in the building trades, apprenticeships enroll relatively few U.S. high-school students, and only about 2 percent of high-school graduates.

Policymakers have begun to call for adaptations of this on-the-job-learning model by expanding it to growing service-sector occupations and making the programs more attractive to businesses and entry-level workers who pursued a general track in high school.

Many proponents cite Germany’s apprenticeship model, which enrolls some 70 percent of that country’s 16- to 19-year-olds in business-sponsored programs coordinated closely with secondary schools. Such an approach would enlist American students during the last two years of high school in worksite training that would continue after graduation.

Cooperative Education. Built around the concept of internship, these programs are usually school-led efforts that involve local employers to give students a taste of specific jobs. Training generally is less intensive than in apprenticeships. The programs usually require job supervisors to assess students’ performance, while school instructors monitor the experience. The U.S. Education Department estimates that nearly 1 million high-school and community-college students participate in co-op programs each year.

Tech Prep. Quickly growing in popularity, tech-prep programs--often known as “2 plus 2" programs--typically merge the last two years of high school and two years of college into a curriculum including mathematics, science, communications, and technology courses that leads to an associate’s degree. In some cases, the programs also offer further classes leading to a bachelor’s degree.

The programs are designed to offer work-bound students clear postsecondary options and make schoolwork more relevant. The Congress last year appropriated 63 million specifically to encourage states to develop tech-prep programs. A year ago, officials counted 122 tech-prep programs in 33 states.

School-Based Enterprise. Much like extracurricular activities in which students work at school to produce a product such as a yearbook, many vocational programs tap school-based enterprise as a key job-training activity. Many of the programs are established to teach entrepreneurship, give students an early grasp of business operation, and reinforce classroom learning.

Federal officials estimate that hundreds of thousands of secondary and postsecondary students are active in such enterprises, ranging from school restaurants and child-care centers to construction jobs and auto-repair shops.

School-Business Partnership. While relatively new to academic classrooms, partnerships have long been a mainstay of vocational programs. In addition to such contributions as supplying materials, funding, and volunteers to classroom programs, many employers involved in partnership programs follow up by giving students summer jobs or part-time work.

Unlike co-ops or apprenticeships, few partnerships are structured to teach specific learning objectives, according to the Edu cation Department; the major emphasis, in stead, is on discouraging students from dropping out of school.

Vocational Academies. In more than 100 locations across the country, vocational schools have been established within traditional schools in an effort to blur the line be tween academic and vocational coursework. Many of the academies operate like magnet schools, emphasizing skills such as computer use or health care. Most involve local employers in offering classroom help and providing on-the-job learning.

The programs are expected to grow in popularity in the wake of last year’s reauthorization of the federal vocational-education law, in which the Congress placed a high priority on integrating academics into vocational courses.

A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 1991 edition of Education Week as A Guide to Programs Designed To Address School-to-Work Transition