JITE v33n4 - At Issue - The New Vocationalism: Community Economic Development

Volume 33, Number 4
Summer 1996

FROM THE EDITOR: This "At Issue" contains an essay by Richard Lakes, who argues that the development of inner-city neighborhoods should be a new focus for vocational education. Lakes suggests that entrepreneurship training can serve as the basis for the new model. Responses to these or previous "At Issue" essays are encouraged. Instructions for authors are provided in the "Bits & Pieces" section of each issue of the Journal.

The New Vocationalism: Community Economic Development

Richard D. Lakes
Georgia State University

I offer a policy brief on the "new vocationalism" to consider possibilities for reclaiming our inner-city neighborhoods. There is a conventional wisdom about vocational-technical training, promoted by educational policy makers, that non-college-bound students are deficient in job-finding skills leading to employability. Researchers affirm that adolescents have inadequate preparation for connecting with employers, but also that employers have difficulty reaching promising students (see, for example, Stern & Eichorn, 1989). Much of the literature on school-to-work transitions over the past two decades offers an array of alternative strategies or pedagogical techniques that try to close the gap between trained students and potential employers. For example, students must develop skills in market contacts, heightening their understanding about informal channels of information in which to land a job-a networking approach to employability (Peterson & Rabe, 1986); educators must try understanding the needs of employers more closely, apprising students of desirable qualities, such as linguistic and computational skills, for filling job vacancies (Wilms, 1984); and businesses must highlight paid and nonpaid alternatives that may help employers recognize students as apprentice employees in their firms (Smith & Rojewski, 1993).

Embedded within this "transition management" literature are (a) unrealistic assumptions about labor market stability and (b) false promises of job accessibility. That is, most educational policymakers fail to blame the business community for deficient employment practices at the macro- and micro-social levels (Cuban, 1992; Weisman, 1993). In the former case, labor market stability, joblessness, and underemployment have been created in part by an oligarchy of corporate decision-makers who are responsible for altering market arrangements under so-called postindustrialism. In other words, the domestic economy has been transformed by transnationalism: the globalization of markets and the managerial shifting of capital to reallocate profits in low-wage areas creating a significantly reduced (downsized and streamlined), unstable (lacking in job security), and dislocated (migrating to Sun Belt regions or offshoring in Third World countries) American work force (see Osterman, 1988). From a macro-social perspective, then, the long-standing social contract between labor and capital has been ruptured, which results in the purposeful abandonment of the working classes. Why fund human capital development programs nationwide if training costs are undercut by cheap labor abroad? What are the employment futures for the non-college-bound youth?

In the case of job accessibility, youths transitioning from school to work do not face similar employment prospects. Structural inequalities in job distribution and unequal occupational rewards militate against low-income youth in their search process. Labor markets marginalize by class, race, and gender a reserve army of workers destined for the least desirable jobs. Some individuals may never accommodate to the work culture and organizational rules necessary for perceived labor market success. Due to their historic struggle against oppression and discrimination in this society, minorities such as Hispanic-Americans or African-Americans are often unable to accept the dominant view of social mobility-one that links educational credentials with finding and keeping a good job (Knouse, Rosenfeld, & Culbertson, 1992; Ogbu, 1986). Career success for young workers is a reigning myth reserved and perpetuated by the white middle-classes, but it is not supported by caste-like minorities who recognize that racist labor force selection practices keep young Black and Latino workers from getting desirable first jobs. From a micro-social perspective, then, cultural differences of students impact their employability options (Borman, 1992). Untapped earning potentials are not distributed evenly among youth in the school-to-work transition.

What chances do urban youths have for meaningful job prospects in their local communities of color? I offer an alternative perspective: Enhance the transition management for low-income youths through entrepreneurial ventures. In other words, entrepreneurship education is a vehicle by which to stimulate job creation as well as promote community building in urban areas.

Interestingly, few educational reformers mention that "entrepreneurship training could serve as a basis for a school-to-work transition model" (Smith & Rojewski, 1993, p. 233). Most business-industry-education partnerships for community economic development do not include students as viable stakeholders in the process. Yet inner-city youths can enter into alliances with progressive community leaders to reclaim their neighborhoods (Lakes, in press). Each economic venture holds the potential for the preparation of young leaders who recognize self-determination in establishing development priorities within their own communities.

Vocational and technical educators must be aware that small-scale entrepreneurialism can arise within urban communities blighted by industrial flight and the accompanying collapse of employment opportunities for residents living in dire poverty there. Urban dwellers comprise a willing and trainable labor force for business enterprises dedicated to keeping jobs within local neighborhoods (see Gunn & Gunn, 1991). Low-income communities can tackle related social policy concerns such as substandard housing and homelessness or health and welfare problems with vocational-technical students/graduates dedicated to responsible community economic development in their own backyards.


Lakes is Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia. A different version of this paper was presented at the symposium, "Toward the New Vocationalism: Critical Perspectives on Education and Work," at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, SIG on Vocational Education, in New Orleans on Thursday, April 7, 1994.


Borman, K. M. (1992). The first "real" job: A study of young workers. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Cuban, L. (1992). The corporate myth of reforming public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 74(2), 157-159.

Gunn, C., & Gunn, H. D. (1991). Reclaiming capital: Democratic initiatives and community development. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Knouse, S. B., Rosenfeld, P., & Culbertson, A. L. (Eds.), (1992). Hispanics in the workplace. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Lakes, R. D. (in press). Youth development and critical education: The promise of democratic action. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Stockton, California, revisited: Joining the labor force. In K. Borman & J. Reisman (Eds.), Becoming a worker, (pp. 29-65). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Osterman, P. (1988). Employment futures: Reorganization, dislocation and public policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, P. E., & Rabe, B. G. (1986). Urban vocational education and managing the transition from school to work. In R. C. Rist (Ed.), Finding work: Cross national perspectives on employment and training, (pp. 55-86). Philadelphia: Falmer.

Smith, C. L., & Rojewski, J. W. (1993). School-to-work transition: Alternatives for educational reform. Youth & Society, 25(2), 222-250.

Stern, D., & Eichorn, D. (Eds.). (1989). Adolescence and work: Influences of social structure, labor markets, and culture. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Weisman, J. (1993). Skills in the schools: Now it's business' turn. Phi Delta Kappan, 74(5), 367-369.

Wilms, W. W. (1984). Vocational education and job success: The employer's view. Phi Delta Kappan, 65,(5), 347-350.

Reference Citation: Lakes, R. D. (1996). The new vocationalism: Community economic development. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 33(4), 66-69.

Tracy Gilmore