Job training doesn’t help much when there are no jobs, reports the New York Times. Quick-fix programs — a job-hunting workshop, a resume polish, quick training in office skills — were designed for a boom economy. In a deep recession, even intensive programs can fail if predictions about the labor market don’t pan out.
“It’s such an ugly situation that job training can’t solve it,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a job training expert at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research institution in Washington, and a former commissioner of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. “When you have five people unemployed for every vacancy, you can train all the people you want and unfortunately only one-fifth of the people will get hired. Training doesn’t create jobs.”
Training advocates say there are jobs in health care and technology for skilled workers. But community colleges and workforce development programs need to know what skills are in demand locally.
Two years after completing programs tied directly to the needs of local industries suffering shortages of skilled workers in the South Bronx, Boston and Milwaukee, graduates were earning 29 percent more than similar workers who did not receive training, according to a new survey from Public/Private Ventures, a research group that has advocated job-training programs for low-income communities.
Working with local employers, Minnesota’s Hennepin Tech offers intensive training in Swiss machining to help laid-off workers find jobs manufacturing medical devices. The college has placed 80 percent of its 250 WorkFast graduates in jobs.
David Gustafson was laid off from a job machining parts for medical device companies. When he applied for work, employers said they needed someone who could program the computers that run Swiss machines.
He signed up for WorkFast and found a job at a Swiss machine shop paying slightly more than he earned before the lay-off.
“Just as soon as I could say, ‘Yes, I can program,’ I got a job,” Mr. Gustafson said. “I feel real secure.”
However, Gustafson was an experienced machinist who needed one additional skill. It’s much harder to train low-skilled workers for high-demand jobs.
A 2006 study prepared for the Labor Department found virtually no benefit for 8,000 randomly selected recipients who entered federally financed training programs in 2001 and 2002.
In the year before their training, these people earned about $20,000 a year on average, according to the study. During the 15 months after their training, roughly 80 percent of these people were employed at some point, but their earnings in that period averaged about $16,000.
Women were far more likely to benefit from training than men. This recession has hurt men the hardest: 60 percent of the long-term unemployed are men. Nearly three of four long-term unemployed Americans did not earn a credential beyond a high school diploma.
Laid-off workers will benefit from training — eventually, writes Atlantic blogger Daniel Indiviglio. When employers start hiring again, the trained will have new skills to offer. Trained workers will be more productive, which is good for the economy. But the recovery is going to take awhile.