Career readiness has been an important consideration of U.S. public education since the early 20th century, when the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 brought vocational education programs—the predecessors of today’s career and technical education (CTE) programs—to high schools across the nation.
And in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the landmark School-to-Work Opportunities Act, a program jointly operated by the Departments of Education and Labor that provided venture capital funding to help promote systems change, such as building better linkages between academic courses and career preparation. These linkages included school-based learning (including integrated academic and vocational instruction tied to occupational skill standards and challenging academic standards), work-based learning (providing students with workplace mentoring and planned work experiences linked to schooling), and connecting activities to ensure the coordination of work- and school-based learning components by involving employers, improving secondary-postsecondary linkages, and providing technical assistance.
That same year, two leaders in the workforce development field—Joan Wills, former director of the Center for Workforce Development at the Institute for Educational Leadership, and Irene Lynn, former leader of the National School-to-Work Office—came together to write a study to provide insight on what motivated involvement in school-to-work programs. That report, School Lessons, Work Lessons: Recruiting and Sustaining Employers’ Involvement in School-to-Work Programs, used case studies to provide recommendations on what needed to be done in the U.S. to better engage businesses in career readiness efforts and keep the U.S. workforce competitive in the changing global economy.
While more than two decades have passed since the publication of School Lessons, Work Lessons, four of its recommendations are still relevant today, and many are even echoed in the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA):
- Build a national support system to provide materials, standards, and curriculum frameworks that meet both school and industry needs
- Design an infrastructure with deliberate, thoughtful linkages between education, workforce development, and business sectors (today known as “career pathways”)
- Develop learning plans and standards that focus on skills and requirements needed by employers
- Promote and support scaled-up work-based learning opportunities for students that directly engage employers in career readiness and training efforts, including apprenticeships, internships, summer and afterschool jobs, and other workplace experiences
School Lessons, Work Lessons is available for free online through the U.S. Department of Education.