Related BLS programs | Related articles
February 2005, Vol. 128, No.2
The transition from school to work: education and work experiences
Julie A. Yates
Youths experience different trajectories in their transition from school to work. Some youths jump from job to job and do not develop a steady employment relationship until many years after leaving school, if at all. Others settle into a longer-term employment relationship soon after leaving school. Some policymakers and educators express concern that many new entrants to the job market tend to experience periods of churning, moving from one low paying job to another, without settling into a longer-term relationship.1 This argument posits that the time, sometimes many years, spent moving from one short-term job to another is nonproductive and steps should be taken to eliminate it.
Other analysts see this period of short employment spells in a more positive light. They argue that early job mobility represents "job shopping" where young workers learn about different work environments and their own skills and interests.2 As youths acquire different work experiences, they are able to move into jobs that better match their skills and interests, often with higher wages. In this light, the job-shopping phase can be beneficial for both workers and their employers.
Education is clearly linked to these employment processes. In high school, youths learn mainly general skills. These include not only hard skills such as literacy and numeracy, but soft skills such as punctuality, dependability, and following directions. Because of their youth, those seeking jobs just after high school may know less about the world of work and be less committed to a particular occupation. Likewise, employers of these youths have less information about their skills. Both employer and employee may look at entry-level jobs as a learning process by which each can evaluate the long-term potential of their "match." College graduates, on the other hand, invest more in specific skills and may acquire a greater knowledge of the job market within their field. They can match their interests to skills and reject potential career paths before entering the labor market. Employers of new college graduates have potentially greater knowledge of the particular skills of their new hires, and, because of the higher wages they must pay, more incentive to find a good match. For these reasons, matches between new college graduates and their employers may be expected to last longer than those between new high school graduates and employers. Youths who have left school without a high school degree are doubly disadvantaged; they lack both general and job-specific skills, and they face employers who have low expectations and little incentive to invest in their matches. Consequently, schooling choices may dictate the speed and ease of the school-to-work transition.
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 2005 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
Read abstract Download full article in PDF (69K)
1 See, for example, Report by the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 1990.
2 See, for example, Robert H. Topel and Michael P. Ward, "Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 1992, pp. 439–479; Boyan Jovanovic, "Job Matching and the Theory of Turnover," Journal of Political Economy, May 1979, pp. 972–990; William R. Johnson, "The Theory of Job Shopping," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 1978, pp. 261–278.
Related BLS programs
National Longitudinal Survey
programs: information from two surveys—Aug.
Youth initiation into the labor market—Aug. 2001.
Young worker participation in post-school education and training.—June 1998.
U.S. and German youths: unemployment and the transition from school to work.—Mar. 1997.
Young men and the transition to stable employment.—Aug. 1994.
Education and the work histories of young adults.—Apr. 1993.
Within Monthly Labor Review Online:
Welcome | Current Issue | Index | Subscribe | Archives
Exit Monthly Labor Review Online:
BLS Home | Publications & Research Papers