School-to-work programs provide ways for students to transition successfully into the economy, either through paid employment with a business or self-employment. Numerous studies reveal that, upon high school graduation, many students who aren’t college-bound are neither prepared for nor connected to employment opportunities.
In general, building a school-to-work transition program entails the following three approaches:
- Integrate the long-separated “tracks” of academic and vocational education. From middle school on, schools should orient youth to work, help them explore different types of jobs, provide guidance about career paths, and assist them in finding work relevant to their needs and interests. Vocational education is considered too narrow and specific, outdated by modern technology, and ineffective in building language and math skills. Academic education is criticized for being too conventional, driven predominantly by standardized tests, and ineffective at motivating most students.
- Link schooling with the demands and realities of the workplace. Through employment-related experiences and on-the-job learning, students can receive significant exposure to the workforce and can prepare for their future work environment.
- Develop programs to closely coordinate secondary and post-secondary education with employers. Apprenticeships and school-business partnerships are just two of the many ways educators and businesspeople can produce a shared view of youth learning and development.
These changes have extensive learning implications, particularly for high schools, including:
Curriculum–Develop new models that integrate vocational and academic education, from revamping the guidance counseling system to creating a coherent sequence of courses related to broad occupational clusters.
Instruction–Focus on experiential, project-based learning. Also, reduce the “tracking,” or segregation, of students into either academic or vocational studies.
Assessment–Use portfolios to gauge a student’s employability.