For the past three decades, we’ve been fed this line about retraining for “the jobs of the future.” It started under Reagan, who did an amazing job shifting the expectation (and the costs) that your employer would train you for the job, to putting the onus on local school districts to prepare job-ready graduates, and on job seekers to make themselves “employable.”
So with that campaign, Reagan successfully planted the seeds we see blossoming today into full-blown insanity: If you’re not employed, it’s your own damned fault!
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have enrolled in federally financed training programs in recent years, only to remain out of work. That has intensified skepticism about training as a cure for unemployment.
Even before the recession created the bleakest job market in more than a quarter-century, job training was already producing disappointing results. A study conducted for the Labor Department tracking the experience of 160,000 laid-off workers in 12 states from mid-2003 to mid-2005 — a time of economic expansion — found that those who went through training wound up earning little more than those who did not, even three and four years later. “Over all, it appears possible that ultimate gains from participation are small or nonexistent,” the study concluded.
In the last 18 months, the Obama administration has embraced more promising approaches to training focused on faster-growing areas like renewable energy and health care. But most money has been directed at the same sorts of programs that in past years have largely failed to steer laid-off workers toward new careers, say experts, and now the number of job openings is vastly outnumbered by people out of work.
“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.”