Knowing they must teach students to fix autos and run computers as well as to read and write, D.C. public school officials met for the first time Monday with local business representative for tips on how to best prepare students for the work world.
"The time has come when we must educate students for employment rather than unemployment," said Nina Gaskins, director of distributive education, the program responsible for vocational training and on-the-job experience. She said the conference also held this week to interest the business community in D.C. public school students and inform it about the school's vocational programs.
About 3,500 students take vocational classes, with nearly 1,500 of them involved in a work-study program, working as part of their school program. The District has five vocational schools offering courses from printing to cosmetology.
Several business representatives from such companies as McDonald's Restaurants, C&P Telephone Co., Woodward & Lothrop, Metro and the United Planning Organization told educators there are indeed jobs out their for D.C. students, especially in food services, retailing, transportation, aviation and with the telephone company.
"Our needs are great," said Ronald Gantt, area supervisor for McDonald's.
"We are continuing to build (restaurant) sites in Washington and we need management people," he told acting superintendent James T. Guines and a host of assistant superintendents, school board members and vocational education administrators who gathered at the Hotel Washington for the meeting.
Gantt said McDonald's managers need two years experience in management and two years of college, but that a D.C. student could get the required on-the-job experience working for McDonald's while still in school.
Easter French of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, which produces general aviation aircraft, said, "We are looking for people to put those aircraft together . . . who can keep them in the air . . . design engineers, people who can refurbish an aircraft."
Alvera d. Dancy, Employment manager for C&P and a graduate of the D.C. public school system, said C&P "would like to see more (employes) come from the public schools" for the approximately 1,500 jobs they fill every year.
The business leaders also suggested how the schools could better prepare young people to find employment.
Pat Shannon, a representative of the United Planning Organization, said she is concerned about "the very poor attitude" toward work that many youngsters exhibit. Herself a graduate of the D.C. public school system, she said, "They have to know they can't come to work with belts hanging open, their shoes mashed, their hair not combed. . . If you walk through the halls of the schools, you see how they are being allowed to go to school. They are not being prepared" for the world of work, she said.
"The most striking thing" about the D.C. students he has met, said Chuck Brown, marketing representative for Exxon, "is how little the students know about what's going on in the outside world. . . . It's very difficult when you begin with a student who's 16 or 17, their mother and father not employed; you're putting them in a whole other world" when they enter the job market.
"They have to know there are bankers, lawyers, doctors, a world outside of 'Dr. J' and Earth Wind and Fire," he said.
Fred Thompson, personnel representative from Woodward & Lothrop, said his company generally has been pleased with the D.C. students who have worked there during school and who now have full-time jobs. But he said that vocational teachers should do more follow-up work with students they send to the department store for job experience.
"The first 90 days for any employe are crucial. Teacher coordinators have to take time to follow through with the students working in a new job, to correct any problems which might crop up, rather than wait until later on, when the student might face termination," he said. Thompson said 20 D.C. students are currently employed at the Woodward & Lothrop downtown office.
Julie Rodgers, a Woodson High School student and president of the D.C. Distributive Education Club of America who has held many retail jobs during high school, said one of the greatest assets the schools could give students is a more positive self-image.
"We need more 'people-building' workshops, so people will have more self-pride and recognize a sense of worth in themselves and in the people around them," she said.