Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Apprenticeship Programs Spread High Schoolers Get Training and Sought-After Skills While Keeping Up with Regular Studies. PREPARING FOR A CAREER

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Apprenticeship Programs Spread High Schoolers Get Training and Sought-After Skills While Keeping Up with Regular Studies. PREPARING FOR A CAREER

Article excerpt

EVERY day, Benjamin Pascual dons a white lab coat like other workers in the Boston City Hospital radiology department. He develops film from scanning machines and observes as specialists use the images to examine patients.

What's unusual is that Mr. Pascual is a junior in high school. He is one of 87 students in Project ProTech, an apprenticeship program started last fall to help Boston youths prepare for careers in health care. The four-year program starts in 11th grade and leads to a high school degree, a two-year degree from a technical school or community college, and a skills certificate from the hospital.

Youth apprenticeship programs like this one are beginning to sprout across the country, prompted by concerns that the United States is failing to prepare its young people to enter the work force in an era of increasing global competition.

"For noncollege-bound students in the United States, {today's} education is irrelevant to them and their employers," says Gov. John McKernan (R) of Maine, who is developing a statewide apprenticeship program.

But apprenticeship faces an uphill battle in the US. In Germany 70 percent of students, including many who later get a college degree, go through apprenticeship programs, notes Hilary Pennington, president of Jobs For the Future, a nonprofit research organization in Cambridge, Mass.

US vocational education is viewed by many students and educators as second-class. Attention is focused on America's world-recognized universities. Yet almost half of the nation's young people never get there.

"There has been no coherent effort to reach out to employers or interest them" in apprenticeship, Ms. Pennington says. She says the US has only about 1,000 people in youth apprenticeships - programs in which learning at school and work leads to formal credentials for a career. (More than 200,000 workers in construction and other trades learn their jobs as apprentices, but these workers are no longer in school.)

Wisconsin, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Michigan, and Oregon are developing youth apprenticeship programs. Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton is a strong proponent of the idea, and President Bush proposed in April a $55-million National Youth Apprenticeship Act to promote such programs. In outlining the legislation, Labor Secretary Lynn Martin noted that three-quarters of Americans do not get a four-year degree, "yet they are the backbone of our future work force."

The stakes are not only economic, but social, Governor McKernan said in a recent interview. "This country is going to break apart if we have half the people with no economic opportunity."

Although the US programs to date are humble by comparison to Germany's, Pennington says she is hopeful that the US can develop a broad system of youth apprenticeship as companies recognize the advantages of doing so. …

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