School to Career Movement

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One of the purposes of education is to prepare students to become productive workers. As occupations within the workforce become more specialized, the development of specific job skills remains on the forefront for educators. The changing labor market dictates that educators prepare all students for future success. To ensure that students are adequately prepared, a transition has taken place from narrow-job-specific vocational programs to programs that reflect the modern workplace. New programs such as biotechnology, the teaching profession, and logistics blend the lines between academic and technical education.

Part of the U.S. Department of Education, the Web site of the Office of Vocational Education (OVAE) states:

Career and technical education exists in approximately thousands of comprehensive high schools, technical schools, and postsecondary educational institutions. Virtually every high school student takes at least one vocational education course, and one in four students takes three or more courses in a single program area. One-third of college students are involved in vocational programs, and as many as 40 million adults engage in short-term postsecondary occupational training.

Today, eighty-five years after the passage of the first piece of federal vocational education legislation, vocational education is evolving from its original focus on preparing students for work immediately following high school to addressing the needs of all students. With national and state school reform efforts focused on academic achievement and with the fastest-growing occupations now requiring some postsecondary education, vocational education is seeking effective ways to contribute to these goals. (U.S. Department of Education, OVAE)

To better prepare highly qualified career and technical education teachers across the country, the Career and Technical Educational National Dissemination Center provides online resources that enable individuals to participate in discussion boards and to submit initiatives as well as teaching and learning strategies. Strategies include policies, rubrics, frameworks, techniques, procedures, and action plans. These online resources provide documentation and examples of programs that have been successfully implemented.

Educators must continue the implementation of model sequences of courses as well as frameworks for instruction to expand the school to career movement. These frameworks and guidelines provide and support the integration of academic and vocational education to establish specific student learning outcomes and to engage students in the learning process.


The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) was formed in 1990 by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the skills needed by young people to succeed in the world of work. The commission's initial 1991 report identified three foundation areas (basic skills, thinking skills, and personal qualities) and five workplace competencies (resources, interpersonal, information, systems, and technology). The commission's fundamental purpose was to encourage a high-performance economy characterized by high-skill, high-wage employment. The Department of Labor Web site states: "Although the commission completed its work in 1992, its findings and recommendations continue to be a valuable source of information for individuals and organizations involved in education and workforce development" (U.S. Department of Labor).

The School-to-Work Opportunity Act of 1994 (STWOA) resulted from the SCANS report. STWOA was the most comprehensive attempt to implement improved academics skills, the SCANS directive, and a greater emphasis on standards. The primary focus of school to work was on the role of secondary education to prepare young people to enter the workforce. Strategies that included work-based learning, school-based learning, and the integration of academic and vocational education were implemented. Legislators were challenged to connect school-based learning to work-based learning through the use of integrated learning activities. This act was built on a variety of instructional strategies that were already in existence. Through high-profile funding from the federal government these activities were accelerated. "The authors of STWOA had not intended for the programs to become separate entities; therefore, funding for the programs was scheduled to expire in 2001" (Hughes, Bailey, and Karp, 2002, p. 272). The final funding stream for STWOA was administered in October 2001.


The reauthorization of the Carl Perkins Act in 2005 was crucial to the school to work movement. In February 2005 the subcommittee on Education and Workforce Development proposed H.R. 366The Vocational and Technical Education for the Future Act. The goals addressed in the bill were to advance career and technical education in order to ensure that the United States is able to meet the needs of its employers. In order to meet the goals proposed in H.R. 366, Perkins funding had to be maintained rather than decreased or cut. The bill specifically provided a model sequence of courses, more opportunities for state leaders to ensure the quality of their programs, specific accountability measures, technical assessments, and a simplification of funding streams.

"It is ironic that just as the major federal role in school-to-work has wound down, the flow of evaluation research with positive finding is increasing" (Hughes et al., p. 272). Research studies have indicated that school to career training does provide academic achievement in a variety of ways including the development of skills and abilities needed on the job, increased maturity and psychological development, and encouraged interactions between students and their workplace mentors. Funding for the continuation of career and technical education (CTE) programs is crucial to the school to career movement. "CTE funding may be a very small piece of the federal budget" (Hyslop, 2005, p. 12), but supporters of these programs must ensure that policymakers understand how critical their continuation is to our schools and communities.


Research and field reports indicate that few college graduates are prepared for the realities of work, and even fewer have the skills for successful organization entry. This is especially true in the human services field, where students may not be effectively prepared to handle the multiple needs of families and communities. One might argue, however, that graduating students have strong technical skills, but cannot work together with other professionals or community residents to solve the complex problems of families and neighborhoods. In either case, graduates need to develop skills in both the technical and clinical arenas to meet the needs of their clientele.

Universities can contribute to the process of interprofessional education and community collaboration through both curriculum and experiential learning. The Association for Experiential Education describes experiential education as "a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values" (AEE, p. 47).

When professional development is oriented through experiential learning or direct service, a student begins a process of interaction with professionals and community members. This process embeds technical skills within a larger practice of problem solving in authentic civic life. Furthermore, experiential learning and collaborative work experience enhance the development of problem-solving capabilities of university students beyond their immediate discipline.

L. Michelle Bobbitt, Scott A. Inks, Katie J. Kemp et al. contend that experiential learning techniques create opportunities for students to apply real-life situations to the concepts and theories they have learned. Experiential learning programs can be designed to improve and/or enhance skills in the areas of decision making, problem solving, planning, written and oral communication, and creativity. Experiential learning encompasses a variety of teaching methods, specifically classroom-based (e.g., role-playing, computer simulations, and group projects) and field-based (e.g., internships and practical) techniques. Bettina Lankard Brown supports the use of work-based learning and experiential learning to integrate real-world experiences with classroom curricula learning outcomes. N. T. Frontczak and C. A. Kelly further emphasize the use of experiential learning to integrate theory and practice to improve critical thinking and communication skills.

Many professional graduate programs have long depended on internships and practicum experiences to introduce students to real-life professional practice. According to Steve Jex, the scientist-practitioner model used in graduate education includes opportunities for students to apply information they have learned into real-world settings through internship and field experience. Internships yield high job satisfaction and favorable employment opportunities for participants. Thus, by performing job tasks relevant to chosen vocational fields, students are able to identify personally valued, work-related outcomes and the vocational abilities and interests needed to attain satisfaction from the work arena.


Secondary educators and community college personnel focus on collaboration to encourage students to pursue technical careers as well as a community college education. Through articulation agreements designed around common course areas and programs of study, students who complete these courses at the high school level are eligible to move directly into a 2 years of secondary education + 2 years of postsecondary education (Tech Prep) or 2 + 4 degree plan at the postsecondary level.

Tech Prep funding and STWOA led "local school districts to reorganize their high school programs according to the locally selected career-cluster areas" (Orr, 2004, p. 24). Work-based learning thus become a "precollege" experience by affording students an opportunity to participate in job shadowing, short- and long-term internships, community service projects, cooperative education, youth apprenticeships, career academies, school-sponsored enterprises, and tech-prep programs. Kenneth Gray states that "the transformation of CTE brought about by Tech Prep has been dramatic" (2004, p.130).

Many of these work-based programs provide students with dual enrollment credits that support an effective transition from secondary education to postsecondary education programs. "Dual enrollment programs give high schools and colleges an opportunity to work together to better link secondary and postsecondary education" (Emeagwali, 2005, p. 16). The use of technology has also increased and continues to become more advanced than in the past. Educators, as well as trainers in business and industry, are required to participate in and develop continuing education activities to ensure that their job skills meet the needs of the industries they represent.


For middle school education, exploration is the primary focus. Students in middle school are often unprepared to make decisions about educational training and/or their career paths. A counselor at a middle school in Utah states that at the middle school level "we don't really pressure students to come up with a specific career" (Techniques, 2001, p. 26). Young adolescents are introduced to various careers by participating in a yearlong program called Technology-Life-Careers. Students have the opportunity to learn about careers in business, agriculture, economics, health science, technology, and trade skills. These programs introduce young adolescents to various careers to make students and their parents aware of career opportunities from a broad perspective.

Career cluster programs such as the one identified above can be found throughout the United States. These programs have presented unique opportunities for students to expand their knowledge about various career and technical education opportunities. Broad exposure and self-reflection allow middle school students the chance to cultivate and define their interests. Career and technical education at the middle school level focuses on providing options for students and allowing them to make decisions on their own regarding their career pursuits.

Brown states:

At the elementary school level, this developmental process begins with career awareness, which is initiated to broaden student knowledge about careers and connect academic learning to the workplace. It establishes school as a foundation for education and workplace connections and requires community involvement and support. (1999)

Career awareness is further enhanced by field trips, guest speakers, and simulations to introduce elementary students to the world of work. Merely introducing students to the concepts of jobs, careers, and the workplace at the elementary level prepares them for the exploration of careers when they enter the middle level grades.


The challenge for educators at all levels is how to plan and to prepare students for a future workplace where the technological requirements may be far different from those that have been predicted. Consideration of workforce development issues can be found at the elementary, middle, and high school levels as well as at the postsecondary level. Federal, state, and local governments have accepted an active role to identify and to promote the integration of occupational skills in the curricula.

see also Training and Development


Association for Experiential Education. (n.d.). About Experiential Education. Retrieved November 22, 2005, from

Bobbitt, L. Michelle, Inks, Scott A., Kemp, Katie J., et al. (2000, April). Integrating marketing courses to enhance team-based experiential learning. Journal of Marketing Education, 22, 1524.

Brown, Bettina Lankard (1999). School-to-work and elementary education. Retrieved November 22, 2005, from

Career and Technical Educational National Dissemination Center.

Emeagwali, N. S. (2005). States' varying policies regarding dual enrollment programs. Techniques, 80 (1), 16.

Frontczak, N. T., and Kelly, C. A. (2000, April). Special issues on experiential learning in marketing education. Journal of Marketing Education, 22, 35.

Gray, Kenneth (2004, October). Is high school career and technical education obsolete? Phi Delta Kappan, 86 (2), 130.

Hughes, Katherine L., Bailey, Thomas R., and Karp, Melinda Mechur (2002, December). School-to-work: Making a difference in education. Phi Delta Kappan, 84 (4), 272.

Hyslop-Margison, Emery J. (2005). Liberalizing vocational study: democratic approaches to career education. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Jex, Steve M. (2002). Organizational psychology: A scientist-practitioner approach. New York: Wiley.

Littrell, Joseph J., Lorenz, James H., and Smith, Harry T. (2006). From school to work. Tinley Park, IL: Goodheart-Willcox.

Orr, M. T. (2004, Spring). Community college and secondary school collaboration on workforce development and education reform. The Catalyst, 33 (1), 2024.

A time of exploration. (2001, October). Techniques, 76 (7), 26.

U.S. Department of Education. Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

U.S. Department of Labor. Employment and Training Administration. (n.d.). What work requires of schools. Retrieved November 22, 2005, from

Jill T. White

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School to Career Movement

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