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|Thursday, February 4, 1999 |
Tommy G. Thompson
News Media Contact
DWD News Office
Op Ed: School to Work
"right approach" for Wisconsin
(Editors are welcome to reprint this article in its entirety, or excerpt from it for news stories.)
By Linda Stewart
Wisconsins school-to-work initiative very much deserves the public spotlight today .
In the short life of this program, it already has provided many very positive experiences and benefits for participating students, parents, educational institutions, employers, and organized labor.
For example, over 50,000 students have developed career plans, almost 100,000 students have participated in classes designed to help them better understand how academic knowledge is applied to the work world, and nearly 30,000 have participated in "job shadowing."
And were headed for even bigger payoffs in the months and years ahead. We have to be, because our employers cant wait. As this relatively-new program matures, well then be able to effectively measure the long-term impact of how these experiences related to students ultimate career choices and interest in academic learning.
Thats a point that needs to be made in light of a recent report by two University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professors who found fault with some elements of the program. In fact, there are two important corrections that need to be made to the study.
First, the report also says that 1,150 students had entered into youth apprenticeship programs in Wisconsin between the years of 1992 and 1997.
In fact, 1,150 students participated in the youth apprenticeship program during just one school year (1996/97 school year) not for all of the years between 1992 - 1997. Over 3,000 students have participated in youth apprenticeship since 1992. And the number involved each year is growing. We have 1,300 enrolled this year, with 880 employers and 365 school districts participating, as well.
Second, the report asserted that this program had received $195 million in federal funds since 1991. The actual number, however, is less than $30 million for youth apprenticeship and local coordination of school-to-work activities. Funding under the federal School to Work Opportunities Act and related sources wasnt even available until after 1994. The larger figure actually refers to federal education funds that are used for a lot more than just school-to-work programs.
Even so, there is one key area upon which both these researchers and school-to-work proponents agree: Wisconsin needs to continue its national leadership in preparing our young people for the high skilled jobs of the future.
Indeed, the UW-Milwaukee researchers identified many positive and groundbreaking elements of Wisconsins School to Work program. They recommended expanding some of the major components of Governor Thompsons ground-breaking initiative, such as youth apprenticeship and other work-based training for Wisconsin students.
As the head of the state agency responsible for administering youth apprenticeships and several other work-based programs, I was pleased by that recommendation. I applaud the reports recommendation that we focus more of our efforts on the elements of "school to work" that have shown the most effective results.
Wisconsin needs more work-based learning to help increase awareness of, and prepare, Wisconsins young people for the high-skilled jobs of the next millennium. As the report noted, these types of "technical studies, and apprenticeship and co-op work experiences, help students to connect with a world of norms and practices outside the (elementary, middle and high school) world."
Young people should be prepared to choose from the vast array of opportunities available in the 21st Century. Current trends show many opportunities for high-skill, high-wage jobs and careers in fields requiring a variety of post-secondary training ranging from apprenticeships to baccalaureate degree.
These positive conclusions regarding Wisconsins school- to-work efforts are consistent with the findings of other well-respected researchers, such as the Urban Institute of Washington, D.C.
Just last summer, a top official of that organization told Governor Thompson that he was "highly impressed with the ability of your Administration to work with employers to develop rigorous industry standards, to attract students interested in trying a new and challenging program, to help students gain access to in-depth training, and to draw in nearly 1,000 employers willing to offer full two-year youth apprenticeships."
And, he adds: "So far as I know, Wisconsin is by far the most advanced in providing such intensive training for youth."
Indeed, Wisconsins youth apprenticeship program has consistently received positive evaluations. A study by the University of Wisconsins Center on Education and Work shows employer satisfaction with the program at 90 per cent, and 90 per cent of employers offer permanent jobs to youth apprenticeship graduates. The data also show that youth apprentices who continue their studies in the UW system and technical colleges have grade point averages that are at or above other beginning freshmen.
Building our school-to-work initiative, while emphasizing those aspects which have shown the most promise, is the right approach for our citizens, our employers, and our students.
Linda Stewart is Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
For more information about the youth apprenticeship program and other school-to-work programs of the Department, go to<http://www.dwd.state.wi.us/cew>
or call the Connecting Education and Work Division at 608/266-0223.