President's School-to-Work Plan Extends Beyond Apprenticeships
WASHINGTON--President Clinton was scheduled to travel to Georgetown, Del., late last week to outline his plans for helping more young people move smoothly from education to employment.
Mr. Clinton planned to visit a model school-to-work program there that trains students for the aviation industry.
The Administration's proposed "school-to-work opportunities act,'' has broadened considerably from Mr. Clinton's earlier focus on youth apprenticeships during the campaign.
Instead, the legislation would provide states and communities with considerable leeway to devise a school-to-work system that meets local needs and responds to changes in local labor markets and economies.
It would also let states build on existing education and job-training programs, such as tech-prep, cooperative education, and career academies, in addition to youth apprenticeships.
Some backers of youth apprenticeship said they were disappointed that the Administration has veered away from the term, but added that it is understandable.
Labor unions worried that the term would be confused with the more traditional, registered apprenticeships now offered to adults and, possibly, diminish the status of such programs. In addition, many vocational educators, led by the American Vocational Association, lobbied for a broader approach to preparing young people for work.
Still, the core elements that have become widely associated with the concept of youth apprenticeships--including the provision of highly structured, work-based and school-based experiences--were kept in the bill.
"We like it,'' said Joyce E. Christee, the youth apprenticeship coordinator for Wisconsin. "It's very consistent with Wisconsin's design.''
"We're not surprised that youth apprenticeship was downplayed,'' she added, "but we're real pleased to, at least, see it listed as an option. If legislation came out that said, 'You have to do it this way and call it this,' it would have been a problem for us.''
Indeed, the Administration's effort to seek advice from a wide range of players and to revise its proposal accordingly appears to have paid off.
In drafting the legislation, Labor and Education department officials held a series of meetings with everyone from employers and educators to Republicans. As a result, the bill has broad support.
Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said, "This measure is the result of a cooperative, bipartisan effort on the part of the Administration and Congress to come up with an effective system to prepare young people for successful careers.''
Six Republicans in the House and Senate joined 41 Democrats in co-sponsoring the legislation when it was introduced on August 5.
The proposal has also gained an early endorsement from the business community, including the National Alliance of Business.
Robert Wehling, the vice president of public affairs for Proctor & Gamble, said, "We're at a point in this country where we've got to do something, and this initiative I would look at as an important first step.''
Many people with an interest in school-to-work programs praised the flexibility that underlies the Administration's approach, adding that it would encourage broader participation and align more closely with what states are already doing.
In addition, they lauded the Administration for proposing to fund some of the less visible coordinating activities that help school-to-work programs succeed, such as the creation of intermediaries between schools and employers to help place students in training slots and train worksite mentors.
Others praised the bill for encouraging, if not mandating, that most programs include at least one year of postsecondary education. They fear that many parents will discourage their children from enrolling in a school-to-work program if it is viewed as an alternative, rather than a stepping stone, to college.
The Administration's compromise reflects that some states now in the vanguard of creating youth apprenticeships, such as Wisconsin, do not require postsecondary education for participating students.
"Like anything, the bill is the product of input from a lot of different people and, therefore, represents compromises from what might be the most aggressive, most ideal way of starting out,'' said Hilary Pennington, the president of Jobs for the Future in Cambridge, Mass., an outspoken advocate of youth apprenticeships.
"I think a lot of people have been concerned, 'Does it allow too much of 'anything goes,' too many existing kinds of programs?'' she added. "My own feeling about that is, if you actually read the words for what this money can be used for, it is quite different than what exists today.''
In response to comments from the field, the Administration also included a provision in the bill that would allow states to seek waivers from federal laws and regulations that could impede the creation of school-to-work programs, including portions of the Job Training Partnership Act, Chapter 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act.
In general, reaction to such regulatory relief was favorable. But Bret Lovejoy, the director of government relations for the American Vocational Association, said he is worried that "there seems to be little review process in what regulations will be waived or can be waived.''
One of the biggest concerns among advocates of school-to-work programs is whether enough employers will come forward to offer training slots of high quality. The bill does not include any tax credits, subsidies, or other incentives for businesses to participate.
Business representatives disagree about the need for such incentives.
William H. Kolberg, the president of the National Alliance of Business, argued that "some subsidy for companies to help cover wages and things like that, I think is terribly important, particularly for medium-sized and small companies.''
But Emanuel Berger, the vice president for human resources at the New England Medical Center in Boston, one of six hospitals participating in a youth-apprenticeship program in that city, said incentives are less important than reducing the number of administrative hoops employers have to jump through to participate.
"I'm a bit worried that the states won't have the same level of employer insight, and so may make this kind of a bureaucratic sort of thing that turns employers off,'' he said about the heavy state emphasis in the legislation.
'Move It Quickly'
For now, the bill's prospects look promising. The Administration is clearly hoping for quick action on the legislation. And Congressional aides in the Senate said they hoped to hold hearings later this month, making passage of the bill conceivable before January.
While some legislators--including Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, the ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee--worry about funding a bill that could duplicate existing education and job-training efforts, most aides described support as running high.
"There seems to be a lot of support for this bill,'' said one aide. "It's bipartisan; a partnership between business and labor and education. We think we can iron out some of the technical issues and, hopefully, move it quickly.''
On the House side, Rep. William D. Ford of Michigan, the bill's chief sponsor and the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, had still not decided how to handle the bill as of late last week. But House aides also described the reaction in that chamber as "very positive.''