School-to-Work Programs Raise Youths' Job Prospects Con Edison's Experience Proves Training Teenagers for Work Benefits Both Sides
Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
CONSTRUCTION supervisor Richard Lonergan was replacing a piece of electrical equipment at a Con Edison facility in Astoria, Queens, when the company sent him three high school students to work on the project.
The students were part of a cooperative education program, teaching them to become utility workers. But Mr. Lonergan's first thought was: "Just what I don't need - babysitting."
"Was I wrong," he says. The teenagers had been trained and came to work. Now, Lonergan says, "send me more of them."
If the secretary of labor has anything to do with it, Lonergan's experience may become a lot more commonplace.
On Aug. 5, the Clinton administration introduced the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. The legislation would:
* Provide development grants for all states to create school-to-work systems.
* Provide implementation grants to states which already have completed the development process.
* Establish the standards and goals of a national program. Improves job opportunities
The legislation, which was introduced in the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, has bipartisan co-sponsorship. Labor Secretary Robert Reich says a school-to-work "transition system is critical to improving the economic opportunities of young people." In the House, the bill has received the support of four Republicans, including Susan Molinari of New York. In the Senate, there are two Republican cosponsors.
Jerry Jasinowski, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, terms the legislation "forward thinking." Organized labor worked with Mr. Reich in drafting the proposed legislation.
Some states and municipalities have already set up programs. Wisconsin has established an office of school-to-work transition within the state Department of Administration and the state has a youth apprenticeship program in printing and graphics. Boston has a partnership among the public high schools and the health and financial services industry. Cornell University runs a newly created apprenticeship program around Binghamton, N.Y.
The Con Ed program was begun three years ago at the urging of Robert Donohue, a Con Ed vice president, who wanted to give minority youths the opportunity to eventually become Con Ed employees. Working with six area high schools, the utility began training 10 students a year. "It is one way to recruit minorities, especially women in nontraditional jobs," says Pamela DelSonno, training administrator at Con Ed. As a result of the program, Con Ed now has seven female minority mechanics. Mechanical aptitude a plus
The students are recommended by the teachers and guidance counselors. …