School and Workplace Initiatives and Other Factors That Assist and Support The Successful School-to-Work Trasition of Minority Youth
Rose Mary Wentling
University of Illinois
Consuelo Luisa Waight
University of Illinois
The demographic composition of our society is undergoing a historic transition from a predominately White society rooted in Western culture to a global society composed of diverse racial and ethnic minorities (O'Hare, 1993; Triandis, Kurowski, & Gelfand, 1994). Currently, racial and ethnic minorities comprise about 28% of the U.S. population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1996) projections, during the next 10 years, non-Hispanic Whites will contribute to only one-quarter of the total population growth. From 2030 to 2050, the non-Hispanic White population will be declining in size and will contribute nothing to the nation's population growth. African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics will outnumber Whites in the U.S. By 2010, Hispanics are expected to supplant African Americans as the nation's largest minority group. The rapid growth of minority groups has been and will continue to be marked by an increasing diversity in terms of language differences, cultural beliefs, and other practices, as new immigrant groups (e.g., Vietnamese, Cambodians, Dominicans, Nicaraguans) join earlier immigrant groups (e.g., Mexicans, Cubans, Chinese, and Japanese) (O'Hare, 1993; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996).
An increasing number of youth in the 16- to 24-year-old age group are entering the job market. They are likely to be more ethnically diverse than workers in today's workforce (Finney, 1989; Johnston & Packer, 1987; Triandis & Bhawuk, 1994).
African American and Hispanic birthrates are four and seven times, respectively, that of White Americans. The number of African American youth, aged 14 to 24, will increase from 5,859,000 in 1990 to a projected 7,411,000 by the year 2010. Likewise, the number of Hispanic youth will increase from 4,791,000 to 9,666,000 (US Bureau of the Census, 1996). This increase in the numbers of minority youth will require business organizations to consider hiring more African American and Hispanic employees (Triandis & Bhawuk, 1994). According to Hamilton (1990), "The great challenge facing the nation is to prepare a changing population of young people to do new kinds of work. Failure imperils economic health, social progress, and democracy itself".
Racial and linguistic bias continues to stifle employment opportunities for minority youth including American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, African American, Hispanic, and other racial minorities, between the ages of 16 and 24 years (Hill & Nixon, 1984). Schools have not fully developed, nor have workplaces fully utilized the talents of minority youth (Hamilton, 1990; Triandis, 1976; Triandis & Bhawuk, 1994). Minority youth have a greater probability of being poor, living in poverty, or being otherwise disadvantaged. An increasing number of young people are diverging from the White middle-class pattern. Educational institutions and workplaces must adapt to changes in the youth population. Education and workplace training that are typically effective with advantaged youth will not necessarily enable disadvantaged youth to reach their full potential (Bloomfield, 1989; Hamilton, 1990; Ihlanfeldt & Sjoquist, 1993).
Longitudinal surveys about youth employment done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (1993) captured that almost half of the 16- to 21-year-olds reporting unemployment were high school students. A disproportionate number of these unemployed high school students were members of minority groups. This disproportionate lack of success among minorities in their school-to-work transition experience lies heavily upon two main groups: Blacks and Hispanics. These two groups make up more than 90 percent of America's minority population (Business-Higher Education Forum, 1990), and their unemployment rates are usually two to three times higher than those of White youth - an issue that constitutes the center of the youth joblessness problem (Hill & Nixon, 1984).
Kantor and Brenzel (1992) relate that after two and half decades of federal, state, and local efforts to improve urban education for low-income and minority children, achievement in inner-city schools continues to lag behind national norms, and dropout rates in inner-city high schools, especially among African American and Hispanic youth, remain distressingly high. At the same time, many who do graduate are often so poorly prepared that they cannot compete successfully in the labor market. A publication from the Business-Higher Education Forum (1990) highlights the joblessness issue for Blacks and Hispanics by the observation that in any given month, Hispanic unemployment is about 50% higher than that of Whites, and Black unemployment is 2.5 times higher than that of Hispanics.
The struggle with unemployment that minority youth face has an overpowering effect on America. Early unemployment creates a high risk of unemployment later (Andress, 1989; Hammer, 1996). In addition, the high unemployment rate of minority youth poses huge financial and societal challenges to the competitive advantage of America. Responding to the poor school-to-work transition of minority youth is an expensive undertaking in itself. With a drop-out rate of over 20% for all high school students, and a dropout rate of 50% in the cities, more than a third of America's front-line labor force is at stake (Sarkees-Wircenski & Wircenski, 1994). As we move into the next decade, it is imperative that we identify what initiatives continue to support and assist the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. To assure that the larger, more diverse youth population of the next decade is prepared to do the work of the new decade and new century, the transition of those youth into the workplace must be made smoother and more efficient.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to identify the school and workplace initiatives and other factors that assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. Initiatives, for the purpose of this study, are specific activities, programs, policies, and any other formal or informal process or effort designed to facilitate the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. The information from this study can be used to inform educators, business and industry leaders, minority youth, and society as a whole of the initiatives that assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. Being knowledgeable about these initiatives may assist school personnel in revising their curricula and developing educational activities that will assist and support the successful school-to-work transition of minority youth. The information from this study may also assist employers in developing strategies, initiatives, and policies that assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. Additionally, the information from the study can inform community people of the initiatives that can better help them develop activities and programs to support minority youth make the transition into the workplace. Lastly, information from this study can be used by minority youth to better understand the situations they face and to help them make informed decisions.
This study examined the following major research questions: What are the school initiatives that are the most likely to assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace? What are the workplace initiatives that are the most likely to assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace? What are the criteria for determining sensitive companies, work-based learning sites, or both, that assist in the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace?
This was a descriptive and exploratory study. The major method of data collection was in-depth, open-ended telephone interviews with a panel of 21 school-to-work partnership directors from 16 states across the United States. These school-to-work partnership programs receive direct federally-funded Urban/Rural Opportunities Grants (UROGs) from the U.S. Department of Education, National School-to-Work Office. An interview guide was developed to obtain detailed information, in order to produce an in-depth understanding of the school and workplace initiatives and other factors that assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. The data provided by the participants consisted of qualitative data (words in the form of rich verbal descriptions), as well as quantitative data. Qualitative data provided the essential research evidence, while quantitative data were used to support the qualitative data.
The population for this study was composed of all 21 direct federally-funded UROG school-to-work partnership programs in the United States, which were listed in the report School-to-Work Grantee List (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). This population of school-to-work partnership programs was selected because UROG funding supports specific strategies to address the multiple needs of urban and rural in-school and out-of-school youth in high poverty areas; thus the UROG school-to-work partnerships are more likely to support minority youth (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). The 21 school-to-work partnerships were located in 16 states.
Because the sample of school-to-work sites was small and the majority of students they served were minority students (86%), the findings may not be representative of all school-to-work partnership program sites. However, we believe that what we learned from these sites can be transferred or generalized to other school-to-work sites that serve minority youth.
Profiles of School-to-Work Partnerships. Twenty-one direct federally-funded, UROG school-to-work partnerships were part of this study. Of the 21 partnerships, 12 (57%) were urban and 9 (43%) were rural. The majority had been in existence since the late 1980s or early 1990s. The types of programs the partnerships offered varied. The types of programs mentioned most frequently by the participants included career development/guidance and exploration, 21 (100%); work-based learning, 21 (100%); internships, 12 (57%); job shadowing, 10 (48%); and workplace mentoring, 9 (43%). The grade level of the students in the school-to-work partnerships ranged from K to 16. Of the 21 partnerships, 8 (38%) served students in the K to 12 grade level, 6 (29%) in the 9 to 12 grade level, 2 (10%) in the K to 16 grade level, 2 (10%) in the 3 to 14 grade level, 2 (10%) in the 9 to 14 grade level, and 1 (5%) in the 10 to 12 grade level.
The total number of students currently in the 21 school-to-work partnerships is 50,664; with a range of 150 to 7,033; and an average of 2,413 students. The majority (73%) of the students in the school-to-work partnership programs was Hispanic (39%) and African American (34%). The remainder of the students were American Indian or Alaskan Native (12%), Asian American or Pacific Islander (1%), and White (14%). Nineteen (90%) of the partnerships serve African American students; 9 (43%) serve American Indian or Alaskan Native students; 11 (52%) serve Asian American or Pacific Islander students; 19 (90%) serve Hispanic students; and 14 (67%) serve White students. Even though a large number of partnerships served American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian American or Pacific Islander, and White students, the total number of these students was much smaller than that of Hispanic and African American youth. Fifty-three percent of the students in the partnerships were male, and 47 percent were female. All of the partnerships in the study served in-school youth; only 29 percent served out-of-school youth.
Profiles of Study Participants. Telephone interviews were conducted with 21 school-to-work partnership directors from 16 states across the United States. Of the 21 study participants, 13 (57%) were women and 9 (43%) were men. Fourteen (67%) of the study participants identified their race/ethnicity as White; 4 (19%) as African American; 2 (9%) as Hispanic; and 1 (5%) as Asian American. Seven (33%) of the participants had either a B.A. or B.S. degree, 9 (43%) had an M.A., M.Ed. or M.S. degree, and 5 (24%) had a Ph.D. or Ed.D. The major fields of study of the participants were quite varied. The fields of study mentioned most frequently by the participants included guidance and counseling, educational/public administration, educational psychology, English, and sociology. The number of years the study participants had been in their current position ranged from 1 to 10 years, with an average of 5.2 years. The number of years they had worked in education ranged from 5 to 40 years, with an average of 13.7 years. The number of years of work experience ranged from 10 to 40 years, with an average of 22.7 years.
We conducted telephone interviews with the directors of the 21 school-to-work partnerships using a semi-structured interview guide to assist us in collecting data. The semi-structured interview guide was divided into the four following sections: (a) school initiatives, (b) workplace initiatives, (c) goals advocated for minority youth, and (d) criteria for determining sensitive workplaces. All participants were encouraged to describe the initiatives and other factors in detail.
Interview is a research tool in which data are obtained through verbal interaction. Interview is a method that can be adapted to different situations, allows for follow-up, and also permits in-depth clarification (Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996). Semi-structured interviews were chosen because they are "reasonably objective while still permitting a thorough understanding of the respondent's opinions and the reasons behind them". Semi-structured interviewing "provides a desirable combination of objectivity and depth and often permits gathering valuable data that could not be successfully obtained by any other approach". Therefore, by using this interview method, we retained flexibility to probe into each participant's statements and replies, and to pursue additional issues related to the focus of the study that were not included in the interview guide.
Names and phone numbers of the 21 school-to-work partnership directors who participated in the study were obtained from the School-to-Work Grantee List, (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Initial contacts with the school-to-work partnership directors were made over the telephone, at which time, dates, interview appointments, and arrangements were made. All 21 school-to-work partnership directors that were contacted consented to participate. Each participant received a letter confirming the telephone interview appointment and a copy of the interview guide, two weeks before the scheduled interview. Telephone interviews were conducted from March to May, 1998. All interviews were tape-recorded, and extensive notes were also taken during each interview. Before starting the interviews, each interviewee was asked for approval to tape the interview. In addition, each participant completed a Demographic Information Form that asked for information about themselves and the school-to-work partnership.
A study advisory committee, made up of three vocational educators from a leading university, who had expertise in school-to-work programs and qualitative research methods, reviewed the interview guide and study procedures. Also, a pilot study was conducted with three school-to-work partnership directors, in order to determine the content validity and appropriateness of the interview guide. The pilot test results indicated that the content of the instrument was appropriate for the intended use. The three school-to-work partnership directors who participated in the pilot test were also included as part of the study. There was agreement among the advisory committee and pilot test participants that the interview guide and the data being collected were appropriate.
Data from the interviews were content-analyzed manually and by computer. Content analysis is a research technique for systematically examining the content of communications-in this instance, the interview data. Participants' responses to the interview guide questions and to the related issues that arose during the interview process were read and put together as complete quotations and filed according to the topic or issue addressed. Responses were analyzed thematically. Emergent themes were ranked by their frequency of mention and were ultimately categorized. Essentially, we used a qualitative approach to analyze the responses. Frequencies and percentages supported the qualitative data. The qualitative method was considered an appropriate way to explore the initiatives and other factors that assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace, because the descriptive nature of the qualitative method enables the researcher to understand the whole of an event through insight and discovery (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992).
To further ensure the reliability of the data analysis, we each separately reviewed the interview data from all the interviews and identified the various initiatives and other factors mentioned in the transcripts that assisted and supported the school-to-work transition of minority youth. In addition, we invited a school-to-work partnership director to review the interview data from three of the interviews and to identify the various initiatives and other factors mentioned in the transcripts that assisted and supported the school-to-work transition of minority youth. There was unanimous agreement among all of us regarding the initiatives and factors identified.
The results of this study are summarized in three sections which correspond to the research questions: (a) school initiatives that assist in the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace, (b) workplace initiatives that assist in the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace,, and (c) criteria for determining sensitive workplaces.
School Initiatives that Assist Minority Youth
The study participants were asked to identify the school initiatives that are most likely to assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. The five school initiatives most frequently mentioned by the school-to-work directors included: (a) design and implement an integrated and relevant curriculum, 21 (100%); (b) provide training for school personnel (e.g., teachers, counselors, administrators), 15 (71%); (c) provide mentoring for minority youth, 14 (67%); (d) provide career exploration and guidance for minority youth, 12 (57%); and (e) obtain parent involvement, 11 (52%).
Integrated and Relevant Curriculum. Design and implement an integrated and relevant curriculum was mentioned by all the study participants as an important school initiative for assisting and supporting the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. An integrated and relevant curriculum enables minority youth to connect classroom learning with activities in the workplace, as well as in other settings. An integrated and relevant curriculum also allows minority youth to see how knowledge from different subject areas can be applied. Study participants indicated that what minority students learn in the classroom needs to be better connected to the workplace. According to the study participants, social, employability, academic, and vocational skills all need to be integrated into the school curriculum. Generally, the types of curricula that integrate academic and applied learning and engage the students in the instructional process are better at preparing minority youth to be successful in the workplace. In addition, minority youth participating in such curricula are likely to be more motivated to stay in school, because they have a better understanding of the connection between what they learn in school and obtaining a good job.
Training for School Personnel. Nearly two-thirds (71%) of the participants identified training for school personnel (e.g., teachers, counselors, administrators) as an initiative that assists and supports the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. The areas of training most frequently mentioned by study participants were diversity, technology, instructional methods, workplace knowledge and skills, and mentoring minority youth. Study participants indicated that attention needs to be devoted to diversity training for all school personnel. This type of training can provide school personnel with awareness of the cultural and other differences that minority youth bring with them to school. Diversity training can also provide the specific information needed to work with and teach a diverse student population. These skills and knowledge can then assist school personnel to establish networks and support systems for minority youth in the schools.
Study participants also indicated that technological training would help school personnel stay current with the dynamic changes occurring in the workplace. As a result of technology, machines now do much of the direct labor in the workplace, while humans increasingly are more involved in indirect work, mainly with knowledge and information. These technological changes require minority youth to acquire more high-order thinking skills in order to be competitive in the job market. According to the study participants, technological training will assist school personnel in designing classes that emphasize the more analytical skills needed in the today's job market.
The study participants indicated that teachers also need training in a variety of instructional methods. This type of training should provide them with the skills necessary to identify and utilize the teaching designs that are most appropriate for accommodating minority students with diverse learning styles.
Study participants stated that there are some teachers who lag in workplace knowledge and skills, and this handicaps their teaching capability. Teachers need workplace training so that they can better understand workplace cultures, systems, procedures, structures, and expectations. Study participants stated that school personnel need to participate in workplace internships. This practical experience can help them to see how classroom learning applies to the world of work. For example, they can obtain a better understanding of the visible applications of math and physics in the workplace. Thus, this type of training helps teachers to give minority youth a more realistic workplace preparation in the classroom.
Study participants indicated that school personnel need training on how to effectively mentor minority youth. They said that such training should include information in such areas as minority youth' academic performance, educational background, culture, and environmental constraints. School personnel undergo such training are more likely to have the knowledge to customize their mentoring approach to individual minority youth. Additionally, mentor training offers school personnel who have not worked with minority youth strategies and tools to effectively reach this particular group. Through mentor training, school personnel learn to set and maintain high standards for minority youth, a crucial issue for assisting minority youth in achieving success. According to the study participants, school personnel need to demand high performance from minority youth, because these youth have the tendency to rise to the level of expectation that is placed on them. School personnel need to be persistent with minority youth, because they can easily lose focus and dropout of school.
Mentoring for Minority Youth. Over half (67%) of the study participants identified mentoring as an initiative that assists and supports in the school-to-work transition of minority youth. Mentoring was mentioned as an important approach schools can take to change the attitudes of youth toward school and work. Mentors could be teachers, counselors, or other adults from the community who work closely with the schools. Adult mentors can provide minority youth with important guidance, support, and encouragement. According to study participants, the benefits that mentoring offers minority youth goes beyond that of school and work-related advice; the exposure provided by mentors has the power to positively impact their motivation, self-esteem, and self-confidence, which is much needed for their development. While any teacher or other adult who has the best interest of the minority youth in mind can be a good mentor, study participants felt that a mentor who speaks a student's language, or who has a similar background, is capable of reaching that student at a deeper level and at a quicker pace. Study participants said that this is crucial for minority youth, because often they need to establish a comfort and trust level before they start talking and listening. Study participants stated that caring adult mentors are central to the empowerment of minority youth. What makes a difference in a minority youth's life is having someone who cares and provides guidance through demonstration, instruction, challenge, and encouragement. Although, there are minority youth who have such support at home, there are many whose parents are unable, because of poverty and lack of experience, to help them set and achieve challenging goals. Study participants indicated that minority youth who establish long term relationships with adult mentors are usually the most likely to be successful in school and in the workplace.
Career Exploration and Guidance for Minority Youth. Fifty-seven percent of the study participants reported that providing career exploration and guidance is an initiative that assists and supports in the school-to-work transition of minority youth. Effective career exploration and guidance programs help minority youth explore careers, so that they can set realistic goals for the future and establish plans to achieve them. It is essential that minority youth have opportunities for career exploration and be given a broad perspective on the many career options available. In many cases, minority youth do not have the proper guidance to determine their career options and how to effectively pursue them. According to the study participants, in many minority youth' homes, careers are not discussed because parents don't have steady jobs or are on welfare. This lack of career information and exposure, combined with a lack of mentors and role models, leaves minority youth uncertain of what they can do or want to do in the future. Proper career exploration and guidance programs in schools can help minority youth understand the wide range of career opportunities that are available to them, so that they can better plan for the future.
Parent Involvement. Fifty-two percent of the study participants cited obtaining parent involvement as an initiative that assists and supports in the school-to-work transition of minority youth. The study participants believed that parental involvement is essential to minority student achievement. The problem is that parents of minority youth, especially those who speak little or no English, many times do not get involved in their children's education, because of their own lack of formal education and a belief that they have little to offer. To maximize minority parent involvement, study participants stated that school personnel need to realize that the degree of involvement will depend on the parents' perception of the purpose and benefits of such involvement, their comfort level, and their sense of self. School personnel, then, need to investigate what these perceptions are, in order to better be able to demystify perceptions, remove obstacles, improve processes or change systems so that they can reach minority parents. Study participants said that, although continuous communication is key to minority parent involvement, school personnel need to pay keen attention to what communication medium works best. Study participants emphasized that the medium has to be engaging and not be intimidating. Lack of parent support fosters a negative response in minority youth to school assignments and to education as a whole. One study participant noted, "It is very visible when minority parents are involved in their child's education, the type of work that students produce in the classroom and at home tells the story."
Workplace Initiatives that Assist Minority Youth
The study participants were asked to identify the workplace initiatives that are most likely to assist and support the successful school-to-work transition of minority youth. The five workplace initiatives most frequently mentioned by the school-to-work directors were: (a) provide work-based learning, 21 (100%); (b) provide diversity training for employers, 19 (90%); (c) provide mentoring for minority youth, 14 (67%); (d) provide career development programs, 12 (57%); and (e) develop and implement organizational policies that mandate fairness and equality for all employees, 11 (52%).
Provide Work-Based Learning. All of the study participants identified work-based learning as an initiative that can assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. According to the study participants, work-based learning is a planned program of on-the-job education and supervised work experiences. They indicated that work-based learning gives relevance, meaning, and leverage to classroom learning and serves as an initiation into the world of work. Work-based learning may include such activities as job shadowing, internships, guided business tours, and apprenticeships. Through work-based learning, minority youth can better understand, apply, and make connections between what is taking place in school and in the workplace. Study participants indicated that students who participate in work-based learning are better able to select courses, discern the importance of academic performance, and have a basis from which to validate career and academic decisions. Study participants added that work-based learning provides minority youth with a sense of direction and assist them in developing a career plan - something that is often lacking among minority youth. In addition, work-based learning gives minority youth the opportunity to learn about a company's corporate culture (mission, vision, values, beliefs, dress code, work ethic, and appropriate behaviors) through daily observation, interaction, and communication. This exposure sets the stage for subsequent workplace experiences, because minority youth then enter the workplace with awareness and with strategies that can help them access a company's culture more readily. Through work-based learning activities, minority youth come in contact with real workplace issues, which require the use of problem-solving and decision-making skills. This practice, study participants said, gives minority youth the experience they need to be more likely to succeed in today's competitive workforce.
Diversity Training for Employers. Diversity training for employers was cited by 90 percent of the study participants as an initiative that can assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. Diversity training as it relates to minority youth was emphasized as an acute need in organizations. This type of training was considered important for awareness building, skill building, and educating employees of the cultural and other differences that minority youth bring to the workplace. The training should provide specific information and skills needed to work effectively with minority youth and to give minority youth the opportunity to do their job effectively and have the chance for advancement. Study participants mentioned that there are too many misconceptions and assumptions about minority youth and their capability in the workplace, which negatively impacts their school-to-work transition. An example cited by the study participants was the tendency employers have to lower performance expectations for minority youth. Study participants indicated that culture also needs to be addressed. Employers often lack knowledge of how culture impacts the behaviors and mindsets of minority youth, and this results in stereotypes and overgeneralizations. Study participants emphasized that it is imperative to dispel such notions. Diversity training, if done effectively, can foster understanding and assist employers in engaging in the right course of action when working with minority youth.
Mentoring For Minority Youth. Development of mentoring programs was also frequently mentioned by the experts (67%) as an initiative to assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. The study participants indicated that mentoring programs for minority youth are extremely important. Minority youth need mentors who will assist them in understanding an organization's standards, offer feedback on their performance, make them aware of organizational norms and politics, suggest strategies for advancing in their careers, and encourage them to meet high performance standards. The study participants also believed that companies need to have formal mentoring programs, because otherwise mentoring for minority youth may not happen. People have a tendency to mentor people who are like themselves. Therefore, if minority youth come into a workplace where there are not people like them, they are not likely to acquire a mentor on an informal basis. According to the study participants, mentoring programs have an especially positive impact the poor minority youth. Poor minority youth are able to develop relationships that they may never have had before. Mentoring relationships that extend over time positively impact minority youths' aspirations, motivation, inner strength, awareness, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Study participants reported that mentors accentuate the power of life-long learning, validate classroom learning, and make the workplace more accessible and less intimidating for minority youth.
Career Development Programs. Over half (57%) of the study participants identified career development programs as an initiative that could assist minority youth in the successful transition into the workplace. The participants believed that in order for companies to create an environment that is fair, equitable, and which develops trust, loyalty, and commitment among all employees, the companies must develop more systematic employee career-planning and guidance programs. The participants further indicated that individuals such as human resource professionals should be available to guide minority youth through the career-planning process. It is important for minority youth to understand their strengths and weaknesses in order to more effectively establish their career goals and objectives. The study participants emphasized that lack of career-planning opportunities is one of the main reasons minority youth fail to advance in many organizations. When career guidance and information is provided to all employees, it enables minority youth to obtain career information that may otherwise not be available to them and, therefore, to compete more effectively with other employees.
Organizational Policies that Mandate Fairness and Equitable Treatment for all Employees. Development of organizational policies that mandate fairness and equitable treatment for all employees (52%) was also an initiative that was frequently mentioned by the study participants. They felt that revision of organizational policies and procedures to support diverse needs was an essential initiative for assisting and supporting the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. The range of possibilities mentioned by the study participants were very broad: establishing a corporate culture and policies where racism, sexism, and discrimination are not tolerated; developing a company mission statement that clearly values and honors diversity and respects differences; changing recruitment policies to focus on recruiting, hiring, and retaining minority employees; developing performance appraisals that are non-discriminatory; and developing policies that ensure pay equity for all workers. The study participants emphasized that companies need to change their organizational cultures and develop new policies and systems to accommodate changes taking place in the workplace. This does not mean lowering standards, but changing the way companies do business to assure that everyone, including minority youth, can achieve their full potential.
Criteria for Determining Sensitive Workplaces
Finally, the study participants were asked to identify the criteria for determining sensitive workplaces. The criteria most frequently mentioned by the school-to-work program directors were (a) success in recruiting, hiring and retaining minority employees, 16 (76%); (b) representation of minority employees at all levels of the company, 14 (67%); (c) absence of discrimination lawsuits, 13 (62%); (d) use of a combination of initiatives to address diversity, 12 (57%); and (e) a corporate culture that respects and values differences, 11 (52%).
Success in Recruiting, Hiring and Retaining Minority Employees. Success in recruiting, hiring and retaining minority employees (76%) was the criteria most frequently mentioned by the study participants as an indicator of sensitive workplaces. The participants believed recruiting, hiring, and retention of minority employees to be one of the most visible means of determining that a workplace is likely to assist and support the successful school-to-work transition of minority youth. According to the study participants, recruitment practices need to be used to attract qualified minority job candidates for all levels of the organization. Once qualified minority employees are hired, they need to be provided with advancement opportunities and with support systems they may need to overcome barriers they may encounter. Further, the study participants believed that setting goals for recruiting, hiring, and retaining of minorities demonstrates that an organization places value on minority employees, including minority youth. Such goals provide a positive image for the company, which in the future may assist the organization in hiring minority employees more effectively.
Representation of Minority Employees at all Levels of the Company. Representation of minority employees at all levels of the organization (67%) was an another criterion that was frequently mentioned by the study participants. They stated that minority employees should be fully integrated into all levels of the organization, including middle- and upper-level management positions. It is motivating for minority youth to know that minority employees are promoted and hold high-level positions in an organization. Companies with minorities in high-level position are more willing to show minority youth all aspects of the business and not just the entry-level positions. Such companies are also more willing to expose minority youth to the highest level within the company, and to explain the educational requirements that are necessary to move up the ladder. According to the study participants, having minorities in senior-level management positions is one of the most important signs that a company is likely to assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. Not only are minority managers important role models for minority youth, but many times their individual efforts may help to shape and vitalize diversity activities that can directly and indirectly assist in the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace.
Absence of Discrimination Lawsuits. The absence of discrimination lawsuits (62%) was another criteria that was frequently mentioned by the study participants. According to the study participants, the number of discrimination lawsuits filed against, and also the number lost by, a company may be a useful measure of how the company values and manages diversity. A closer examination of such lawsuits to determine where within the company they originated and the nature of the complaint, may reveal the kinds of problems being solved or not solved in a company, and, correspondingly, whether the work environment is likely to be supportive of the school-to-work transition of minority youth.
Use of a Combination of Initiatives to Address Diversity. Use of a combination of initiatives to address diversity (57%) was also a criterion that was frequently mentioned by the study participants. According to the study participants, companies that utilize a combination of diversity initiatives to address the employees' needs, and that establish these initiatives as a strategic part of their organization systems and processes are more likely to be sensitive to the school-to-work transition issues of minority youth. Some initiatives mentioned by the study participants included education and training programs intended to reduce stereotyping, increase cultural sensitivity, and develop skills for working in diverse work environments; mentoring programs that provide access to formal and informal networks; career development programs designed to promote constructive feedback to employees; outreach programs such as internships, scholarships, and partnerships with schools; and nontraditional work arrangements, such as flextime and home work stations. Organizations that openly honor differences and that go beyond race and gender issues are more likely to support and assist in the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace.
Corporate Culture that Respects and Values Differences. Presence of a corporate culture that respects and values differences (52%) was an another criterion that was frequently mentioned by the study participants. According to the study participants, a corporate culture that respects and values diversity is one that provides a better work environment for all employees regardless of their gender or ethnicity. This type of corporate culture involves increasing the consciousness and appreciation of differences associated with the heritage, characteristics, and values of many different groups, as well as respecting the uniqueness of each individual. The corporate culture captures the unique contributions that everyone has to offer because of his or her background, affiliations, talents, values, or other differences and links those unique contributions to the overall performance of the organization. A study participant stated that "if minority youth know that the person supervising them wants to make their experience valuable and respects them as an individual, this makes their workplace experience more likely to be successful." Overall, the study participants indicated that companies that have work environments that respect and value differences are more likely to support and assist in the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace.
It is important to note that the initiatives and factors identified in this study were derived from the perceptions and beliefs of a selected group of school-to-work partnership directors. Members of different groups (e.g., parents, students, and business people) might have identified different initiatives and factors. Nonetheless, this study revealed a wide range of initiatives that assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. The results of this study seem to indicate that minority youths' ability to succeed academically and in the workplace is contingent upon the types and quality of interventions that both the school and the workplace undertake. The study showed that successful initiatives are usually collaborative in nature; they have some type of work-based input and: are systemic and strategic in both planning and implementation. Work-based learning and an integrated and relevant school curriculum were initiatives that were mentioned by all participants.
This study revealed that work-based learning engages minority youth in practical experiences that bring value to their classroom learning. Minority youth become active experimenters and concrete learners; they understand workplace culture and expectations; they make informed career decisions; and they learn to solve problems. This study showed that work-based learning opportunities such as job shadowing, apprenticeship, business/workplace tours, and internships capitalize on relevancy, authenticity, and meaningfulness of the content and its learning environment. Although this study focused on initiatives that assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace, the literature shows that many of these initiatives may also assist and support non-minority youth (Ginzberg, 1980; Hamilton, 1990; Hudelson. 1994; Lerman, 1994; Tiemeyer, 1993). A 1995 report from the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment reported that work-based programs such as youth apprenticeships are among the most promising ways of preparing young people for modern work responsibilities. Additionally, the report stated that youth apprenticeships help students see the relevance of academic studies to their later lives, aid their exploration of career options, foster desirable work habits, develop solid occupational skills, and prepare young people to learn continuously while on the job. Work-based learning has continuously been identified as an initiative that is instrumental in the education of all youth (Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, 1995; Hudelson, 1994; Lerman, 1994). This study also emphasized work-based learning as important, especially in the education of minority youth.
An integrated and relevant curriculum was another resounding initiative. This study showed that a curriculum that is integrated and relevant is more likely to have a positive impact on the academic development and workplace success of minority youth. Curricula that integrate school and work give opportunities for contextual and hands-on-learning, which help minority youth to better understand the significance of what they are learning.
Diversity training was another initiative that was identified as important in supporting the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. This study showed that the cultural and other differences that minority youth bring to school and the workplace are important elements to consider in their academic and professional development. Burdette-Williamson (1996) and French (1996) proposed that teachers and other adults who interact and work with minority youth need to be aware of and sensitive to cultural differences. This study similarly highlighted that school personnel and employers need to be cognizant of cultural differences and of the effects of these differences on the school and workplace performance of minority youth. This study found that diversity training is significant to providing awareness and the skills needed to work with and teach a diverse student population. Through diversity training, school personnel and employers can obtain a better understanding of how they can create an environment for minority youth that is conducive to learning.
This study revealed that mentoring, whether it is workplace- or school-based, if done well, can give impetus to the lives and school-to-work transition of minority youth. Mentoring was seen, in this study, as an initiative that can help minority youth with accessing information, job networking, self-esteem, self-confidence, and motivation. Mentoring can also foster the development of relationships and encourage minority youth to communicate their fears, and expectations. This study also disclosed that mentors who have knowledge of the "mentee's" language, culture, social background, and have the best interest of the mentee as central to their mentor role are likely to reach minority youth at a deeper level and at a quicker pace. Blechman (1992), in discussing mentors for high-risk minority youth, recommended that communication skills and bicultural competence be weighted heavily when screening mentors. Rowe (1990), in describing the benefits of her mentoring program entitled Youth Activities Task Force, reported that mentoring demonstrates that minority youth have true potential; while they might not have material things, they have youth, vigor and enthusiasm. According to Rowe (1990), effective mentoring helps make minority youth less likely to get involved with drugs and gangs, instead it helps them to find employment, have self-respect and in general to be an asset to their communities.
Career development was another recurrent initiative. A career development initiative was seen as essential to the future success of minority youth, especially those who face job inaccessibility, absence of a job network, and lack of basic skills. This study revealed that career development programs communicate to minority youth the importance of goal setting, hard work, and determination. Fisher and Griggs (1995) reported in their career development study that generalizations from the dominant group have created a limited and misguided view of the constructs that shape the career profiles of minority students. Similarly, this study found that implementation of a career development initiative is dependent on having well-trained, well-informed adults who not only know about careers and relevant programs, but who also understand minority youth from a cognitive, cultural, social, racial, and historical perspective. Additionally, Constantine, Erickson, Banks, and Timberlake (1998) reported that for career development programs to be successful with minority youth, the programs need to focus on both internal and external factors that may affect their occupational attainment, including such factors as socialization experiences, perceptions of career barriers, and discrimination.
Training for school personnel was another frequently cited initiative. This study revealed that if school personnel receive training in such areas as diversity, technology, instructional methods, mentoring, and workplace knowledge and skills, they can create conducive learning environments at school and make meaningful contributions to the successful school-to-work transition of minority youth. This study disclosed that workplace internships, for example, can give teachers creative insight into workplace culture, skills, and systems. Farrell (1992), in discussing what teachers can learn from internships, reported that teachers who completed summer internships accentuated the non-scientific knowledge and skills that persons who work in industry need. The importance of teams, networking, interpersonal, communication, and problem-solving skills, among others, were identified
This study also revealed that parent involvement is crucial to the successful school-to-work transition of minority youth. Other studies (Aalborg, 1998; Deblieux, 1996; Lopez, 1998) have also found that parent involvement is important to the successful school-to-work transition of minority youth. According to Poczik (1995), providing minority parents with awareness of the school's various educational efforts and employing several involvement strategies, such as parents' school nights, facilitators who work with families at home, and training (e.g., literacy, language, computer), can enhance parent involvement. Similarly, this study revealed that school personnel need to employ innovative ways to help minority parents understand the importance of education and to help them become and remain involved, because they are powerful players in the life of their children.
The results of this study with respect to the criteria related to sensitive workplaces revealed that issues related to valuing and managing diversity were important in assisting and supporting the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace. An increasing amount of research literature suggests that support of diversity enhance overall organizational performance (Carnevale & Stone, 1995; Catalyst, 1993; Cox, 1993; Fernandez, 1993; Morrison, 1992; Triandis & Bhawuk, 1994). The inevitability of a diverse workforce in American organizations suggests that organizations that support and that are sensitive to diversity will be best able to attract and retain the best available human resources. As the percentage of minorities and other diverse groups in the workforce increases, it becomes more important for organizations to be successful in hiring and retaining workers from these groups.
The results of this study with respect to the criteria related to sensitive workplaces can be used for benchmarking within organizations. It can also aid in the self-reflective process organizations use to assess their current status and assist them in developing strategic plans that address diversity within their organizations, which in turn, will better assist in the transition of minority youth into the workplace. The criteria related to sensitive workplaces identified in this study can also be used by minority youth who are selecting companies for employment, as well as by individuals who are involved in placing minority youth in work-based learning sites. According to the study participants, companies that meet these criteria are more likely to assist and support the successful transition of minority youth into the workplace.
The initiatives and other factors identified in this study can help provide needed skills for minority youth, as well as combat discriminatory practices. The initiatives identified by the study participants can improve the employment prospects of minority youth who are making the transition into the workplace and provide them with better opportunities for advancement. Initiatives that provide awareness and knowledge about school and work, promote skill development, and which enhance interpersonal relationships among all individuals involved are invaluable. It is important to recognize the systemic, strategic relationships that exist among all initiatives in the effort to foster a successful school-to-work transition for all minority youth.
Wentling is Professor in the Department of Human Resource Education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Waight is a Research Associate in the Department of Human Resource Education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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