Lessons From Life’s First Teacher: The Role of the Family in Adolescent and Adult Readiness for School-to-Work Transition

Publication June 1996

Although the role of parents in children’s academic achievement has featured prominently in recent national debates and policies, little is understood about the contributions of families in their children’s preparation for work. This national study of 1,266 high school seniors and 879 adult two-year college students asked whether family plays a role in developing readiness for school-to-work transition and whether the family role differs for adolescent and adult learners. School-to-work transition readiness indicators in the study included measures of career maturity and selected work effectiveness skills.

The findings, based on examination of a series of structural models linking family attributes to transition readiness, suggest that family does play a role in the development of readiness for school-to-work transition among both adolescents and adults. It is not just the unidirectional adult-to-child actions (e.g., parent participation in school), so often highlighted in educational policy and practice, that seem to matter, however. The day-to-day relational elements of the family also seem to play a role in developing transition readiness for both adults and children. Proactive family characteristics, such as being cohesive or expressive, having an active recreation orientation, and democratic decisionmaking, contribute positively to readiness for school-to-work transition. Inactive family styles, such as being laissezfaire in decision making and/or enmeshed, work against development of readiness for school-to-work transition. An authoritarian family functioning style makes no contribution at all to school-to-work transition readiness among adolescents as defined in the study, although this style does seem to be associated with adolescents’ plans to continue some form of education beyond high school.

Study findings suggest that family characteristics seem to be important in nurturing readiness for school-to-work transition because families contribute to the development of family members’ learning processes, such as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and critical thinking, which, in turn, are useful in developing transition readiness. The role of their current family in developing readiness for school-to-work transition seems to be similar for adults and adolescents. Important differences were found, however, between present family and recollections of past family for adults. Several implications are discussed for workforce education policy and practice and further research.

Way, W. L., & Rossmann, M. M. (1996, June). Lessons from life’s first teacher: The role of the family in adolescent and adult readiness for School-to-Work transition. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

Download the report (PDF)