STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The recession is especially tough on people without a college education. The unemployment rate for teenagers is more than double the rate for older workers. Of course, the best bet for high school students in the long run is to get some college education. But as NPR's Larry Abramson reports, teens can dramatically improve their job prospects by getting some training in high school.
LARRY ABRAMSON: With the unemployment rate above 10 percent in some places, teenagers must feel like they're standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. They can just barely see jobs on the other side, but they can't get there.
Mr. JOE MCLAUGHLIN (Center for Labor Market Studies): In times like this, the less educated tend to be pushed out of the labor market.
ABRAMSON: Joe McLaughlin is with the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. He says employment rates for high school graduates have been plunging since the 2001 recession, and this year the drop is particularly steep.
Mr. MCLAUGHLIN: This recession has hit them hard, and is going to make things even worse than what was already some bleak labor market prospects for them.
ABRAMSON: And that's what you hear from people around the country who are trying to help young people find work.
Kelly Causey is with the Mile High Youth Corps, which tries to find construction and conservation jobs for young workers around Denver. She says even in a good year she has too few jobs for her teen applicants, even if they have a high school diploma.
Ms. KELLY CAUSEY (Mile High Youth Corps): And where we typically had three or four applications for every one opening, this summer we've seen seven to eight to one of those applications.
ABRAMSON: Okay, enough bad news. What kinds of things can help high school graduates find a job?
Mr. JACK SHEEHE (Culinary School Instructor): These are all backwards.
ABRAMSON: The red napkins may be backwards, but otherwise the table looks lovely at the culinary school for Sollers Point Technical High School on the edge of Baltimore. Instructor Jack Sheehe says these students know everything they will need to be commercial cooks.
Mr. SHEEHE: The crusted pork loin is already done. Just ready to put in the oven tomorrow, and they've got whipped mashed potatoes and the chocolate chip cheesecake is done. One of my kids just got a job working with Marriott starting at 10-something an hour. And he's actually being mentored by another one of our graduates who's the sous chef at Marriott.
ABRAMSON: Data shows that kids who work in well-planned vocational programs have a much better chance of finding work. Some technical schools suffer from image problems, as a place for students who aren't necessarily college material.
But Sollers Point has taken its mission and run with it. Kids must test into Sollers Point and show that they are strong students. They keep their ties to their traditional high school and get a regular diploma, along with whatever certification they get here.
Principal Diane Young hopes all these students will continue to college at some point. But she says her school ensures they'll have something that college doesn't always provide.
Ms. DIANE YOUNG (Principal): And I've met so many young people nowadays who have a four-year college degree, and then they end up going back to the community college, because the college will teach them a marketable skill.
ABRAMSON: Or here's another way of putting it...
Mr. STEWART MAJEROWICZ: McDonald's can only hire so many people.
ABRAMSON: Senior Stewart Majerowicz says he started at Sollers Point because he knew he would have to work his way through college, and he didn't want to do it flipping burgers. So he's been working at Middle River Aircraft, making parts for 747s. It's part of his engineering curriculum. This job has not only schooled him in the real world of work, it's prepared him for downturns: he just got laid off.
Mr. MAJEROWICZ: About two weeks ago, 247 people got laid off.
ABRAMSON: At this school, if students can't find another position, they take extra classes at a local community college. The point is to keep building up their toolbox - their list of real-world skills. So whether or not they finally get a bachelors degree, they'll have something to show employers who are generally skeptical when young people walk in the door.
Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.
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