Applying Career Development Theories to the School-to-Work Transition Process

By Lent, Robert W.; Worthington, Roger L. | Career Development Quarterly, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Applying Career Development Theories to the School-to-Work Transition Process


Lent, Robert W., Worthington, Roger L., Career Development Quarterly


Responding to national and local initiatives, the career development profession has been engaged in efforts to aid understanding and facilitation of the school-to-work (STW) transition process. Vocational theory has been cited as one especially important area in which the career development field can contribute to the STW movement, yet career development theories do not typically highlight their relevance to the STW transition process. This special issue of The Career Development Quarterly features a set of articles that examine how several prominent career development theories (person-environment fit, social learning, developmental, and social cognitive) can be brought to bear on the STW process. Three discussants assess the theories' utility as templates for studying and facilitating the transition from school to work.

Legislators, policy makers, school reformers, and corporate employers have cited the importance of improving the bridges by which students move from educational to work settings (e.g., Marshall & Tucker, 1992; William T . Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship, 1988a, 1988b; School-to-Work Opportunities Act, 1994). Concern has been expressed about students' level of preparation to enter the labor force--especially their socialization to the work world, their ability to translate their educational skills into occupational domains, and their subsequent productivity, dependability, and flexibility as workers. Although such concerns have occasionally been raised in relation to college graduates' preparedness for work, there has been particular interest in improving the work transition of "employment-bound youth," that is, students who either do not finish high school or who finish high school but either do not attend or who do not finish college. These students constitute the majority of secondary school students in the United States (Marshall & Tucker, 1992; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991, 1993).

Although concern over school-to-work (STW) transition has only recently gained national attention, it is not a new phenomenon. Rather, it is the latest of many efforts to contend with students' work entry needs. Such efforts have waxed and waned over the years, largely because of political and economic considerations. The revived interest in the STW transition has been sparked by a succession of reports detailing the decline of U.S. educational achievements and workforce preparation relative to other countries and to the changing demands of the labor market (e.g., Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 1990; Employability Skills Task Force, 1989; Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991, 1993; William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship, 1988a, 1988b).

A variety of state and national policies designed to reform the structures whereby students move from school to work have been enacted over the years. Federal legislative acts, beginning with the Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933, have directly or indirectly addressed the workforce readiness of U.S. youth (Herr, 1996). The Educational Amendments of 1974 (Section 406, PL 93-380; cited in Herr & Cramer, 1996), the Job Training Partnership Act (1982), the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Acts (1984, 1990), and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA; 1994) have provided federal backing to a variety of workforce readiness programs (Herr,1996). In the 1960s, such programs as the Job Corps were formed to provide educational and employment training to "disadvantaged" youth. By the 1970s, models of career education and comprehensive guidance programs had appeared and were gaining momentum (Herr & Cramer, 1996; Gysbers, 1997).

Recent efforts by STW proponents to impart the knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential for effective workforce participation closely resemble the ideas of career education and guidance advocates of the 1970s. …

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