Although critics of American workers’ skills often raise comparisons to Germany and Japan, a recent report argues that educators looking abroad for school-to-work training strategies would do better to study recent efforts in Australia and Britain.
Unlike industrial and training structures in Germany and Japan, which are truly foreign to the U.S. system, Australia and Britain share traditions and problems that continue to nag at American companies, according to the report by Jobs for the Future, a training and employment group.
Both Australia and Britain saw markets for unskilled workers collapse during the early 1980’s, but took vastly different approaches to dealing with the demand for smarter workers, the report says.
In Australia, officials gradually shifted high schools from a narrow focus on college-bound students to a broader curriculum complemented by new teaching methods and stronger assessments. The number of high school graduates nearly doubled by the end of the decade, while income supports encouraged higher education.
British officials, on the other hand, focused on work-based training heavy with employment subsidies, with a secondary strategy of keeping more work-bound teens in school.
The report portrays the British Youth Training Scheme as seeking short-term relief for young workers and says that it reflected “a much greater sense of urgency about the growing unemployment lines than ... about the issue of training provisions.” The program has been a target for reformers seeking to require that the on-the job training produce better qualified workers.
Decisive, coordinated training policies such as those used in Australia can improve teenagers’ basic skills without tracking, the report concludes.
The British experience shows, however, “that excessive reliance on an unregulated, employer-driven approach may not result in high quality training,” it warns.
Copies of “Building a National System for School-to-Work Transition: Lessons from Britain and Australia” are available for $10 from Jobs for the Future, 48 Grove St., Somerville, Mass. 02144.
As several groups work to develop the best apprenticeship model to deal with the needs of employers and work-bound teenagers, the Council of Chief State School Officers is providing seed money for 10 states to design and develop youth apprenticeship programs.
Officials in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin recently received $20,000 grants awarded by the chiefs as part of a three-year, $600,000 program supported by the Pew Charitable Trust.--L.H.
A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 1991 edition of Education Week as Vocational Education Column