School Response to a Changing Labour Market

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The presumed link between schooling and the economy has been a prime force in motivating educational reform proposals in many countries. Educators feel caught between expectations by many that schools will play a key role in labour market success for young people and the reality that their influence on labour market outcomes is relatively weak. Solving the problem is not possible, but neither is ignoring it. Schools face an intractable yet compelling problem.This paper looks at the way in which school districts in a Canadian province understand and try to respond to changes in the labour market and the nature of work. The paper is based on collaborative case studies of five school districts and surveys of school board members and chief superintendents. We conclude that people in school systems are aware in a general way of labour market changes, and see them as having negative implications for students. However the changing job situation seems to be an important but largely unanalyzed issue. There is relatively little discussion of school-work issues in schools and districts. Administrators and school board members rely on informal sources of information rather than gathering data about their own situation. Schools and districts are using various programmatic devices to address labour market needs, such as partnerships, work experience, or co-operative education, but all of these operate within the confines of a traditional model of schooling. None of the districts has a strategy for this issue or has made it a priority.We conclude with some suggestions for measures schools could reasonably take to respond more effectively to the impact of changes in work.

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