School-to-work transition represents a period in a person's life when he or she faces issues related to education and skills development, unemployment, job search, labor market entry and segmentation, occupational matches, stable employment and adequate income. That transition usually takes place between the ages of 15 to 24. During that period the young person has to develop certain skills based on initial education and training in order to become a productive member of the society.
There are many school-to-work programs aimed at allowing students to make the transition successfully into the economy. This can involve both paid employment with a business or self-employment. A large number of studies have shown that after their high school graduation, students in the United States who are not going to college are not prepared to start work and therefore are not connected to employment opportunities.
The main goal of school-to-work transition programs is to integrate academic and vocational education, two fields that have been separated for a long time. One of the reasons for that separation is the idea that vocational education is too narrow, specific and ineffective in building language and math skills. At the same time, academic education has been considered too conventional and driven mostly by standardized tests. Those who support the idea of integration between academic and vocational education believe that schools should orient their students to work from middle school on; help them explore different types of jobs; provide career guidance; and assist them in finding work relevant to their needs, experience and interests.
School-to-work transition programs also seek to develop a connection between schooling and the demands and realities of the workplace. To achieve that, students have to be exposed to the workforce so that they can prepare for their future work environment. Another important thing for the transition process is the development of programs to closely co-ordinate secondary and post-secondary education with employment. Apprenticeships and school-business partnerships are key methods in doing this.
According to the Academy for Educational Development's National Institute for Work and Learning (NIWL) in the United States, there are 10 key elements essential for the development of an effective school-to-work transition system. These include:
- Administrative leadership. A successful school-to-work transition system requires administrators who can develop clear goals and a comprehensive strategy.
- Commitment of program deliverers is also a key factor for the success of a school-to-work transition plan. According to NIWL studies the teachers, counselors and support staff members who deliver the program should be innovative, adaptable and willing to take risks with instruction, curriculum and classroom management. In that context, the presence of a career/transition specialist represents a good practice. The job of that specialist is to make clear the links between the world of business and the world of learning by helping students assess their interests and work experiences. He or she serves as a liaison and resource for businesses and, at the same time brings ,information from the work site to school-based learning.
Cross-sector collaboration and integration of career information and guidance should also be promoted to help students make the transition to working life. Effective collaboration requires all stakeholders, such as schools, businesses and community partners, to be ready to jointly reform all aspects of the system. Integration of career information, on the other hand, involves the presence of a set of core support services prepared for each individual student. These services can begin as early as elementary school. They may include career information, assessment and career counseling combined with mentoring and personal counseling.
School-based learning is another element that helps create working school-to-work transition systems. These systems must build a solid foundation of both work-readiness skills and academic skills. School-based learning as a method encourages the development of alternative strategies for teaching and learning that utilize work-based, computer-assisted and other innovative approaches.
Through work-based learning student are provided access to different work-based learning experiences. When building a school-to-work transition program tailored to meet local needs and circumstances one may use approaches, such as school-based enterprises, entrepreneurial programs, dual enrollment programs, mentorship, cooperative education, career academies and service learning. A program may also include paid or unpaid work experiences during the school day or after school.