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Companies Help Teach Students the Realities of Workplace 101

Training: School-to- work programs mark the cooperation of local districts and such corporate entities as Shell and BellSouth.


CHICAGO — With outdated labs, teachers who have never worked outside the classroom and graduates who can't keep a job, schools are looking to corporate America for help.

Thousands of companies are answering the call. They're cooperating with local districts on school-to-work programs, which try to prepare teens for jobs in the global economy of the 21st century.

The help is coming just in time, according to Phillip Jackson, director of inter-governmental affairs for Chicago's public schools.

"You have to know computers and computer technology to be an effective auto mechanic," Jackson said. "But in the auto classes, instead of state-of-the-art equipment, we have wrenches and hammers."

Business has noticed the deficit. BellSouth Corp. discovered students in Atlanta who wanted to be graphic artists didn't know the most useful software and teens who wanted to be technicians in Key West, Fla., didn't know enough math and science to be trained.

So the telephone company began a school-to-work program that takes students into the field and proves the connection between homework and work.

"They needed more math and more science. They'd heard that from teachers, but until they got into the field and actually worked with employees who were using hand-held computers and making computations, they never were able to make the link," said Lee Doyle, BellSouth's director of corporate affairs.

Shell Oil Co. has set up a Youth Training Academy that targets average students from Chicago's South Side and South Central Los Angeles. Many are middle-class but need a boost.

Hector Espinoza, 19, went through the Shell program in Los Angeles three years ago. He said it made him appreciate how hard his mother--a single parent--worked to pay the bills. Espinoza said he attends college part time and works full time because of what he learned at Shell.

"Basically, I was a snobby little kid," he said. "I didn't think too much of education or anything. . . . After I joined the program, they set me straight. They would tell me I had potential--that I could go a long way."

Shell teaches about computers, resumes, work ethics and money management. It helps participants get internships in fields that interest them--not just areas that pertain to Shell's balance sheet.

School-to-work initiatives are designed to improve the quality of all future workers--not just the 75% of high school graduates who don't go to college, said J.D. Hoye, director of the National School to Work Office in the Department of Education.

Programs vary. Some target inner-city schools; others work in rural areas. While some teach students skills specific to a particular industry, others opt for the more generic--computer skills, critical thinking and responsibility.

The federal school-to-work bill was passed in 1994; national statistics have not yet been compiled on the programs.

Eastman Kodak during the summer tutors teachers in what corporate America wants and offers teens apprenticeships in the basics of mechanics and electronics. It also presses local, state and federal educators to improve. Kodak's Donna Ballway said it's cheaper to lobby for institutional change now than to train workers in basic skills one-by-one later.

"We don't go after the 4.0 GPA. We go after the middle," Shell vice president Sam Morasca said. "There are programs for overachievers and programs for drop-outs and gang kids. . . . The smart ones will survive."

The company said that since it began its first academy in Los Angeles in 1993, 84% of its 445 participants have gone to two- or four-year colleges. That's about twice the college attendance rate of students at those schools who aren't in Shell's program.

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