Sharpening America's work force skills Labor Day: Job security isn't what it used to be, so retraining is increasingly important.

September 07, 1998

HERE'S something on which labor and industry can agree: America needs to bolster its work-force skills.

This year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to help states improve job training. The Workforce Investment Act, pushed by President Clinton and earlier by former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, should help both sides in the years to come.

Businesses certainly benefit from training programs; they need employees who are equipped to handle increasingly technical tasks that require more than a 12th-grade education. Many employees, meanwhile, will have to learn different skills to avoid long-term unemployment or drudgery.

The federal law lacks the kind of public investment Mr. Reich advocated when he served in the Clinton administration's first term. Although he and Mr. Clinton seemed to be on the same wavelength when they joined forces, Mr. Reich eventually left the Cabinet, frustrated that his ideas were pushed off the president's policy map.

But the former labor secretary deserves credit for making job training an important part of public discussion.

Training and retraining are crucial. Jobs lack the permanency they once had, and some workers are finding their skills are no longer of use. They must be ready and able to move on. Employers, especially those in the technology sector, can't find enough highly trained workers to perform jobs that didn't exist years ago.

This is why congressional Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences and overwhelmingly passed the law, which bundles 60 federal programs into three neat block grants to states. Maryland has begun its program with $40 million to operate one-stop centers for training and referral services.

Yes, labor and business will always have conflicting points of view. Wages, health benefits and outsourcing remain hotly debated issues. Despite these differences, we can celebrate Labor Day and the labor movement because of the push-pull that brings both sides together to keep America working.

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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