Misty Brooks, Erica Pearson and Jay Bomberger, members of Lawrence High School's Class of '93, are among the newest additions to the local labor force.
Brooks has been applying for secretarial jobs since she graduated in May, but so far without success. In the meantime she's been working as a convenience store clerk.
More than a month after graduation, Pearson was still looking for a secretarial job but was optimistic about finding one.
Bomberger got lucky. He was hired as a lease consultant for a Lawrence apartment complex, a temporary summer job he hopes he can keep until next spring, when he plans to enroll at Johnson County Community College.
Dorothy Glenn, the LHS office education coordinator, is concerned that high school students have to compete for entry-level jobs with college graduates.
With the tight economy, college graduates are having difficulty getting jobs they want and are settling, at least for now, for service jobs and entry-level positions, Glenn said.
"These are the people my kids are up against," she said. "I think the handwriting is on the wall. Unless you are really well-skilled out of high school, they're realizing they need additional training somewhere. The market is really stiff."
Consequently, Glenn said, she counsels her LHS students about the potential long-term financial benefits of higher education.
"I'm not saying I push college, but I make them aware that if they get further training, they have an advantage over someone who hasn't," she said. "The chances for advancement are not as great if you don't get further training."
Technical training will be the rule, not the exception, for most new jobs in the near future, said Bob Eales, the high school's director of vocational and continuing education.
"In the next decade, 90 percent of all new U.S. jobs will require technical education beyond high school," he said.
The Tech Prep Consortium may be the answer, Eales said.
LHS officials have worked for two years to decide which courses of study will be offered through the Tech Prep Consortium, which will link technical and academic programs at the high school and Johnson County Community College, he said.
The northeast Kansas consortium, sponsored by federal legislation, links LHS, six Johnson County school districts, the Kansas School for the Deaf and JCCC, said Ken Gibson, the college's dean of instruction.
"It evolved from the theory that we're doing an excellent job at the secondary level, with college prep students, but that there's a group of students that are kind of floating through the system, who don't really know what they want to do and are not committed to anything specific," he said. "When they graduate, they're not prepared to go to work or to college. The idea is, these are competent students that can learn, so we do more career exploration, identify early some career path that will give them a good job."
The students will enter the four-year program as high school juniors and graduate from high school prepared for a post-secondary program, Gibson said.
"The idea is to articulate the last two years of high school with two years of post-secondary, get a degree in technical skills, and make the student competitive on a global level," he said.
Tech Prep will help answer a question students face when choosing a career: Where are the jobs?
These days, students may sign up for courses not knowing which fields have employment potential, Eales said.
One of the advantages of Tech Prep, he said, is that "for once, the counselors are able to tell students there is an opportunity."
The local job market is sparse for far too many Lawrence High School grads, who have to travel out of town to find work, Eales said.
Although Lawrence's job market could expand between 1,600 and 2,400 new jobs in the next 25 years, the LHS graduate who is not highly skilled will have to take a job in the service industry, retail or a fast-food restaurant, he said.
Are Lawrence High School graduates, especially those who are not college-bound, competitive in the work force?
"I think many of them are," said Shirley Martin-Smith, owner of Adia Personnel Services. "I'd like kids to know they have more options. I think they need more counseling."
Barbara Foster, who just graduated from LHS, said she would have liked more specialized courses in high school.
The 17-year-old is planning a career in fashion design and plans to work a year before entering KU.
But Foster said she was glad she was able to take advantage of the high school's office education program, which helped her find a part-time job at Douglas County Bank before graduation.
LHS students prepare for the working world with classes as well as practical experience. Classrooms that were once filled with typewriters now contain computers, so students can learn keyboarding, word processing, data entry and spreadsheet skills.
Melanie Solko, who also got a part-time job at Douglas County Bank in her senior year, credits the office education program.
Solko, 18, said she plans to enter KU this fall and major in business. She said she thinks the office education program will be a good basis for such a degree.
Solko said she considered enrolling in a community college, but decided against it.
"The main reason is all the driving," she said. "I decided to stay in Lawrence; it's more convenient. Also, I didn't want the problem of my credits not transferring. It's better for me to go straight to KU."
Pearson, who had a part-time temporary job at city hall as an assistant secretary while she was in high school, is still looking for a full-time secretarial job.
"Well, it's kind of hard to find a job these days," she said. "There are not really any jobs to apply for, that are in my best interests."
Although her job prospects are "pretty slim," Pearson said, she remains optimistic.
"If I keep looking, I'll probably have a job in no time," she said.