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New US help for youths seeking careers

During a summer when most black teen-agers have been pleased to have a job of almost any kind, 17-year-old Cedric Johnson counts himself especially fortunate.

Cedric spent much of his summer working on drafting and interior design projects in one of Chicago's top architectural firms. The experience cemented his conviction that he was on the right track in taking drafting at Benito Juarez High School, where he will be a senior in the fall.

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"It's made me want to go past architecture and into interior design and space planning," insists Cedric, who is from a family of nine children and whose only onther job has been as a school janitor. "Now I want to go all the way and get my master's degree."

The Chicago summer program in which Cedric has been involved is a variation of one of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act's (CETA) newest and least publicized offshoots. It is known as the Vocational Exploration Program (VEP). This program was launched last year in 16 US cities as a year-round demonstration project to see what kind of career choice program works best for various kinds of young people. In many ways, the Chicago program, which dates back to 1977 and combines classroom and job training, field trips, and career counseling, has served as a pilot for the national model.

The Chicago VEP program focuses heavily on job and training possibilities in private business on grounds that most of the job opportunities are there. The Chicago Alliance of Business -- Employment and Training (CABET), a nonprofit local affiliate of the National Alliance of Business, serves as the intermediary between the mayor's office, disburser of CETA funds, and the business community.

This organizational approach appears to have been so successful that Jack Fitzpatrick, who was executive director of the Chicago Alliance when it was first formed, is helping the National Alliance of Business set up similar liaison groups around the country.

VEP, like all CETA programs, requires on-the-scene monitoring and a certain amount of paper work. Most participating businesses prefer being hounded in that regard by CABET than by the mayor's office.

Though CETA programs in general now focus heavily on a partnership with private business, one of VEP's conditions is that the job training offered not increase the productivity of the firm so as to give it any special government subsidized advantage over others that employ no CETA helpers. Thus employers are wary of saying they get much benefit out of the program other than a sense of helping the economically disadvantaged and a hope that the former employee will speak up on behalf of private industry should his friends deride it.

"We felt if we were going to be architects and planners in the urban environment of Chicago that we owed something to the city beyond taxes and perfunctory community funding efforts," explains Wilmont Vickrey of Vickrey, Ovresat, & Awsumb, the Chicago architectural firm where Cedric has worked this summer. "I expect any young people we take on to be productive -- they have to pull their oar and develop some sense of responsibility. But they also need a certain amount of training and time before you can expect that much. . . . And they need to have someone concerned about them. We have to put these kids on our worry list."

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"They've given me a lot of encouragement," says Cedric. "And they don't keep watching you all the time -- they feel you can do the job."

The l0 teen-agers in Chicago's newest variation of its VEP have had jobs and classes in fields that range from bank accounting to floral design and retailing. Indeed, only the 20 with drafting experience recruited came with a ready skill.

Much of their time off the job with CABET personnel has been reserved for career discussions and field trips to places such as the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago air trafic control center. This summer, a new twist was added to Chicago's VEP program. Students have been taking pictures of their supervisers and work environment with cameras donated by Polaroid Corporation. They also have been logging their experiences for CABET by writing on subjects ranging from the maturity of their supervisors to the seriousness and competence of their colleagues compared with their school classmates.

"The exercise is basically . . . to force them to clarify their values and understand what motivates them," says Jim Murvine, CABET project director. "The idea is to make them spend some time thinking through what they're experiencing and what's important to them."

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