Job training programs for the yesteryear

August 14, 1996|By Lisa H. Lawson

WASHINGTON -- The most flagrant examples of wasteful government spending are federal and state job-training programs, hampered as they are by duplication, waste and conflicting regulations.

The General Accounting Office estimates that the federal government oversees some 154 separate job-training programs, administered by more than a dozen different agencies.

The cost to taxpayers is close to $25 billion a year, but that's not the only chapter in this story of waste.

These bureaucratic job-training programs aim at achieving only minimum skill levels and continue to pump taxpayer dollars into training directed at yesterday's jobs, particularly low-skill management jobs.

But few of those jobs exist in this country. Most have left and are not likely to return.

One reliable way to avoid training students for jobs that simply are not there is to annually evaluate all career-training programs. Another is to review the percentages of graduates who are successfully placed in industry. The government has a dismal record in this area.

A couple of years ago, the General Accounting Office found that fewer than half of 62 job-training programs had even bothered to see if their students obtained jobs after their training!

Even more startling, only seven of the programs were evaluated to find out whether the students would have achieved similar outcomes without the aid of government. The states also invest enormous funds in such training. In California alone, over $3 billion is allocated annually.

Programs at both the state and local levels suffer from the same system -- an uncoordinated, duplicative and wasteful maze -- that too often raises expectations and then does not deliver.

Without a focused approach to employment training, one with a special emphasis on national standards, we will continue to see job-training failures as opposed to those success stories we need.

Industry needs to play an active role in establishing both the curriculums and the testing standards. It should assist financially by securing specialized facilities and faculty for trainees.

Most important, industry must identify areas of the economy in which there is a true need for trained workers.

An example of one successful partnership is the Printing Industry Association's development of a graphic arts academy at a southern California high school.

In the past, we have not matched work skills with job availability. This must come to an end.

Training standards

National training standards are the general norm in most European and Asian countries, but only a few industries in the United States can boast comparable standards.

This leads to a lack of consistency among the companies and training agencies involved in employment-training programs.

Trainees therefore are often set adrift when trying to plan their education. They do not know what courses are essential or -- and this is even more important -- the skills that jobs will require.

Employers are left in an even more difficult bind. They are left to rely on graduates who may or may not be truly qualified.

Only industry-generated standards in several key industries (such as biotechnology, computer-based applications, energy, environmental sciences, financial services, health, printing, telecommunications and transportation) will lead to training certificates that can become tickets to good-paying jobs.

Lisa H. Lawson is a public-policy specialist in California state government.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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