A school-to-work transition system is by definition dependent on effective collaboration among all of the stakeholders involved in the process. Effective collaboration requires the involvement of all stakeholders in an active and ongoing partnership, and the willingness of each stakeholder to reform all aspects of the system. Developing and maintaining such partnerships takes time and continuous nurturing so that each partner recognizes the rewards, risks, and long-term outcomes they can expect for themselves and, more importantly, for the students.
The first step in developing a representative system is taking stock of the range of partners in a community. It is important to engage partners early in the process in order to foster a sense of empowerment, ownership, and ability to influence the shape of the system. These collaborative efforts draw from a range of partners much wider than traditional school partnerships, and include: representatives from secondary schools and districts, business and industry, unions, postsecondary education, community partners, parents, social service agencies, and private sector people with needed skills (for example, job services). These systems of collaboration also reach across layers within organizations--from CEO to mailroom worker--and between partners--from an individual school-business partnership to a statewide initiative.
Effective long-term collaboration requires not only broad and inclusive recruitment, but also continuous nurturing of individual members as well as the partnerships. The system must encourage partners' active involvement, fostering clear communication about areas of concern or interest, developing a level of comfort with risk and change, and building a system where mutual trust and reciprocity are recognized and applied.
This may require structured education/training sessions for various partners. Different partners require different types of support or reassurances that the system will work for them. For example, employers must feel that in the long term it is worth their staff time and resources to take high school students into their workplace and mentor or train them. Schools would thus have to prepare and market the student to businesses--by equipping students with workplace readiness skills, for example; provide employers with a school-based liaison; and perhaps even train employees in how to interact with and mentor a high school student.
The goal of such extensive and carefully nurtured partnerships is an atmosphere of shared vision, beliefs--and ultimately, resources. The collaborative process and atmosphere of trust leads to profound change in attitude and actions in areas such as a willingness to give up turf and reallocate resources, and in a recognition that effective partnerships take a great deal of time and a commitment to sustained effort for the duration. It is only when individual relationships turn into institutionalized changes and systemic reform of services to students that a school-to-work system becomes sustainable.
The private sector plays a unique role in the working team. WorkSource Enterprises, Inc. is a private, nonprofit employment service organization that offers employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. The organization has been a major partner in CEWAT since the beginning, collaborating with the school system to obtain the federal grant that began CEWAT. For seven years, WorkSource has provided job placement and support services for Charlottesville High School. Through this partnership, WorkSource furnishes a placement director and employment specialists.
The success ROP leaders have experienced in crafting an effective collaboration is due in large part to their commitment to nurturing the partnership. They begin by creating an atmosphere that is sensitive and responsive to the needs of all their partners. ROP leaders set the tone by being visibly committed to collaboration and equal partnerships, and to giving up traditional turf. The result is a willingness by partners to share resources and trust, even on confidential matters.
For example, the clarity with which the ROP defines the school districts as its customers has shaped a working relationship in which the districts report continual support and assistance from the ROP. Two-way communication between the ROP and its districts is sustained through countless informal conversations daily and through formal meetings. Representatives of the districts report a great variety of ways the ROP has both anticipated and responded to their needs, providing assistance beyond the fundamental service of educating students: channeling practical and pertinent research findings to the districts, serving as a resource on cutting edge reforms in education, brokering business involvement with schools, fostering more communication between academic and vocational teachers, helping with grant applications, and even providing direct services in crisis situations.
The ESGVROP has a wide array of service agencies involved in the partnership. The agencies sign formal memoranda of understanding, in which they agree both to work with the ROP and with one another. It is a notable feature that these agencies also obtain services from the ROP. For example, all ROP students are enrolled in the California Employment Development Department's (EDD) employment service, and in return, the ROP makes referrals for EDD clients. EDD has also provided labor market information to the ROP, formerly very difficult to obtain. The National Council on Aging provides tutors, mentors, and job coaches and helps in job development; in return, its staff can access any of the ROP services.
Similarly, ROP leaders conceive of their relationship with business as "a process that leads business into the system." Businesses are involved in many ways, including providing worksite training that encompasses a mutually agreed-upon curriculum of competencies for ROP students. In return, the ROP offers services to businesses such as a free assessment of their training needs, information on how to enroll employees in ROP classes, and guidance to individual employees who are willing to serve as mentors to students.
At the local level, YTP fosters collaboration across sectors that are critical to supporting students in the transition process. The YTP assists state and local education agencies in developing extensive partnerships with vocational rehabilitation agencies. Program planning and implementation are coordinated across agencies and community placements, and employers are active program participants. The depth of partnership is evinced through tangible actions such as shared training, technical assistance, and program funding.
Underlying the Baltimore Commonwealth, both the central office and its network of school-based offices, is the concept of the team, a structure for sharing information and contacts intended to cut through the great bureaucracies of government and education typical of any major urban area. The Commonwealth operating structure utilizes "employability teams" at each high school. These teams bring together the resources of the city schools, the OED, and the Greater Baltimore Committee, a formal alliance of business and community leaders. In its ideal form, the employability team includes four staff members of the high school: a principal or assistant principal, the guidance department head, the vocational club advisor, and a school-business contact person, usually a teacher. The team also includes three Commonwealth staff members, one from each of the central office units: a community specialist, a resource coordinator, and Commonwealth (or in-school) youth coordinator.