In theory, most vocational programs offer actual or simulated work experience. Integrating work into the learning experience of students, however, is a more complex and demanding activity than simply placing students in workplaces. Successful transition systems offer a variety of work-based learning experiences, building on local labor market conditions and allowing for differences in student interest, aptitude, and developmental stage.
Schools and employers benefit from substantial flexibility to develop a school-to-work transition system that builds on local strengths and is tailored to local needs and circumstances. The local marketplace helps define the work-based opportunities available. Although business conditions constrain the options somewhat, effective school-to-work systems offer options, in terms of type of occupation or industry and type of experience, and sufficiently varied to provide students with choices that will interest them.
Transition systems can include a menu of options such as business-based experiences, school-based enterprises, entrepreneurial programs, youth apprenticeships, mentorships, cooperative education, and service-learning. Programs also use a range of strategies--paid or unpaid work experiences, during the school day or after school, based in the school classroom or in a "community classroom"--and customize programs to fit the needs of youth, schools, business, and the local community.
Regardless of which particular options or strategies a system utilizes, it must provide support to students, staff, and business partners. Students must be supported by a system which assesses their readiness for work experiences, helps them attain workplace readiness skills, provides options which match students' career interests, helps them surmount any personal or logistical barriers (e.g. child care or transportation), and helps them understand and learn in their work-based learning experience. Casually placing students in a work environment and leaving them to their own devices will not engender a positive learning experience: the students must be monitored and supported so that they understand the criteria by which their work is assessed and receive continual feedback on their performance. The student's workplace assignment should be based on a workplace learning plan to which the student, school, and employer have all concurred, and the student's progress in that assignment should be monitored on a regular basis.
Staff must be supported by a system which recognizes that it takes time and resources to develop effective partnerships and work-based learning opportunities. Identifying and engaging appropriate organizations in the community to provide work-based learning opportunities takes time, commitment, and hard work. The work-based element also places intense logistical demands on its coordinators. Logistics such as school scheduling, labor laws, and insurance require special expertise as well as complex staff work. In addition, transportation of students to workplaces requires enormous amounts of coordination, as individual students travel to individual placements across a community or several counties. Most important, staff must have the time and capacity to work with work- based partners to structure experiences which allow students to learn actively, test out new roles, and develop competencies.
Finally, business or community partners who are willing to provide work-based learning experiences need a system which supports their efforts. These partners should have easy and reliable access to school-based coordinators, should clearly understand the goals of workplace learning, and should be assisted in helping individual students achieve success in their work environment. This may entail training or guidance to help supervisors of students ensure that learning and assessment of learning occur. In particular, the relationship with students' supervisors requires careful cultivation to ensure that the experience is not simply about performing rote tasks but about structured, task-based learning as well.
The most unusual of the consortium's arrangements, the one that most completely situates learning in the workplace, is the off-site occupational program. All instruction in these three programs--Health Occupations, Law Enforcement, and Hospitality-- occurs away from the school buildings. Each program integrates academic study, professional skills training, and work experience, and each offers articulation credit at the local community college. The instructors emphasize teamwork and character, holding up to students high standards of professional ethics and conduct.
Business partners--a local hospital, juvenile detention facility, and hotel--provide classroom space in their facilities. Other businesses contribute by hosting students in job shadowing and externships. The lead instructors are, respectively, a registered nurse, a retired police chief, and a person experienced in the hospitality industry--people who know their industry firsthand. Besides their instructional role, they also are responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships with the businesses that provide placements for their students. The EFE staff have attempted to devise an appropriate support system for these instructors, supplying them with telephones and fax machines to ease communication, for example.
The original step toward introducing workplace learning into Rothsay High School's curriculum was the purchase of a hardware store and lumber yard that became known as the Storefront. Additional work-based learning opportunities arose later when a student-run corporation reopened the town's grocery store. In addition, the planned Global Trade Center and its communication technology will offer another vehicle for engaging students in business development. What these initiatives have in common is the goal of providing Rothsay's students with hands-on business experience that emphasizes entrepreneurship and leadership.
The Storefront is open six days a week. Nineteen seniors, including eight from a neighboring school, work one school period each weekday morning for academic credit. (Three adults cover the other store hours, working for minimum wage.) Seniors take Storefront as either a year-long or one-semester class, carrying out real business activities like data base management, spreadsheet applications, accounting, payroll, inventory, and marketing. All inventory and accounts are computerized. Students rotate among jobs, which have specific classifications like advertising or office work. Students with carpentry skills have constructed special orders like picnic tables and decks. Each student recognizes that he has a particular role and responsibilities: students arrive at the store, proceed directly to different locations, and begin to work.
The experience at Storefront is structured to ensure that students learn as well as work on the job. The class meets four days at the beginning of each semester in a regular classroom for orientation and review of procedures. Learning throughout the course is measured in two formal ways. At least once a quarter, students take a written exam that asks basic questions about store operations: preparing purchase orders, daily accounting procedures, and the like. Once a week, the instructor completes a ten-item evaluation for each student on such items as appearance, cooperation, and respect. Students rate themselves on the same form for particular strengths or weaknesses they assess in themselves.
The operation is overseen by a business teacher who serves as the store's general manager, for no extra compensation. All the Rothsay seniors at Storefront take an accounting class in the afternoon with him, where they learn the accounting skills they apply at Storefront. He decides upon inventory, makes recommendations to the school administration, and resolves problems. He also handles situations such as the two occasions on which the store took delinquent accounts to small claims court.
YTP maximizes student outcomes by situating critical program elements in community-based settings. Students who have experienced school failure have markedly different experiences that reorient them in a positive direction to the world of work and learning. Off-site programs motivate students. Multiple agencies collaborate to sustain off-site programs.
Staff have also developed unique alternatives to more traditional job placement. By engaging in entrepreneurship, YTPs across the state have collaborated to create a temporary employment agency called BEST. Open to all students in the school system, BEST functions as an "employee leasing" program, rather than a traditional temporary employment service, matching entry-level positions to vocational training and employment experience for students. Another example of entrepreneurship is the Eugene YTP's Coffee Cart, a business at Sheldon High School that employs students and provides instruction in a more structured setting for students not yet prepared for job placement in the community. Coffee Cart serves gourmet coffee drinks and a menu tailored to the school community. Students learn about business operations, practice academic skills, and experience the success of working, while preparing for placement in the community.
Several vocational programs run businesses staffed by students on the Metro Tech campus, providing services to the neighboring community on a cost-recovery basis. Under the supervision of instructors, students perform skilled work, serve customers, and handle inventory, taking on real responsibility for managing and operating the business. For example, the Floral Design program operates "Flowers by Tech," where students make floral arrangements and deal with customers. The Child Care program operates "Tiny Tots" day care center, where Metro Tech students care for the children. The Culinary Arts program operates the Metro Tech Cafe and a banquet services facility, where students prepare food, set up tables, and serve customers in a busy and pressured atmosphere. Although these businesses operate on campus, they provide training environments that closely parallel actual businesses. Students cope with real customers, not just their peers. They do have the security, however, of a familiar place, instructors, and peers, among whom to experience work-based learning.
The Industrial Electronics Program at Metro Tech provides one model of work-based instruction. The program has two instructors, one of whom teaches basic electronics and theory, the other, hand- soldering and assembly according to Federal Aviation Administration standards. The second instructor is a retired Honeywell supervisor, with more than thirty years of experience in production and training. Honeywell provides his salary and his training. He teaches students, in a laboratory built by Metro Tech to replicate an actual production setting, exactly what a new Honeywell employee would learn in the company's training program, preparing them for employment as assembler trainees.
Students in the flight training component of the aviation magnet are required to gain firsthand flying experience in their senior year. They use the skills and knowledge they have gained from their classroom experiences over the previous three years, without which they would not be able to fly successfully and safely. Federal Aviation Administration regulations require a minimum of forty hours of dual and solo flight time in preparation for the private pilot's license. The magnet program offers up to fifty-two hours of flight time for each student. The twelve additional hours are provided to cover safety skills in flight. The aircraft is under the student's control the entire time. As students progress, they are guided through takeoffs and landings, turns, climbs, descents, and other maneuvers. Their training also includes solo flights, night flights, and lengthy flights that require several takeoffs and landings.
Once it has been agreed that the student is ready for job placement, a cooperative training plan is developed by the jobs coordinator, with the involvement and agreement of the proposed employer, the student, and the student's parents. The training plan includes a schedule of work experience and a course of study paralleling it, detailing the responsibilities of each of the signing partners. The goal is to place the student with the same employer for both the junior and senior years, allowing the student to learn how to apply and mold the skills required by the employer in the eleventh grade, with the payback for the employer occurring in the student's senior year, as an experienced, confident worker.
Each cluster has several outside job coordinators who are charged with overseeing the work experience, communicating with both the student and the employer on a regular basis, as well as visiting the job site ideally at least once every two weeks. Problematic placements are visited more frequently. The in- building coordinators work with the students while they are in school. On Mondays after students return from their week at work, in-building coordinators hold vocational labs where they facilitate discussions that allow the students to reflect on the work experience and other work-related and general concerns. Students are required to fill out a workbook, which documents the time they have worked and notes any problems they are having. The workbooks help the coordinator develop lesson plans that are relevant to the students' actual work experiences. The workbooks and labs also help keep the classrooms up-to-date with what is happening in the work place.