The Transition from School to Work: A Development Perspective

Article excerpt

Career development theory provides a comprehensive model for conceptualizing the school-to-work transition. Since the 1920s, this model has guided the design of a plethora of career education methods and materials that orient, teach, coach, and rehearse students for the transition from school to work. The developmental model, methods, and materials aim to increase students' awareness of the choices to be made and the information and planning that bears on these choices.

The editors of this special issue asked the authors to focus on "explicitly applying their theories to the school-to-work transition of work-bound youth" and to "emphasize ways that their respective theoretical positions can be used to help understand or facilitate the School-to-Work (STW) transition of youth." This is an amiable assignment for advocates of career development theory because this evolutionary perspective on careers explicitly concentrates on the developmental tasks and individual coping resources required to successfully negotiate the transition to work life. The transition of youth from school to work looms large in the landscape of predictable passages in a career because it marks the beginning of full-time employment. This article first discusses the developmental model for understanding the STW transition and then describes methods and materials for facilitating the STW transition.


The years after a student leaves school are years of choice and change. The choices may be explicit or implicit, made by action or inaction, but either way young adults make important career choices that change their lives. Numerous studies over the last 60 years have examined the experiences of youth in making the STW transition. These studies agree on one major conclusion, the essence of the developmental perspective on the STW transition: Youth cope better with the STW transition if as high school students they have developed awareness of the choices to be made and of the information and planning that bear on these choices. To use the vernacular, high school students who "look ahead" and "look around" develop greater job-seeking readiness (Stevens, 1973) and adjust more quickly to the work world. The studies that first stated this conclusion were conducted between the Great Depression and World War II. Although conducted in a different cultural and historical context, these landmark studies articulated a wisdom that remains relevant today. Particularly important among empirical studies of this type are those that used a prospective, longitudinal research design such as the Regents of New York inquiry titled When Youth Leave School (Eckert & Marshall, 1939); the American Youth Commission survey titled Youth Tell Their Story (Bell, 1938); two Harvard studies: Scholastic, Economic and Social Background of Unemployed Youth (Dearborn & Rothney, 1938) and "Advice From Apprentices" (Moyer, 1940); the National Association of Secondary School Principals' study of Occupational Adjustment and the School (Landy, 1940); and "From School to Work During the Depression Years" (Super & Wright, 1941a, 1941b). Each of these longitudinal studies examined the dynamics of the STW transition by relating data collected from high school students about their career development to detailed information about their adaptation to the world of work.

The resemblance of these studies to contemporary research on the same topic is impressive. For example, the Landy (1940) study, which investigated high school behavior as a predictor of occupational adjustment, identified "practices which seem useful" in preparing students for the STW transition. Landy recommended that principals establish courses that would allow students to become responsible and self-directed in situations that are as much like real jobs as possible. He advised teachers to make their students aware of the problems involved in the STW transition. …


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