Do Job Training Programs Actually Work?



In last week's presidential debate President Barack Obama advocated community college retraining programs as a way to "get workers retrained for the jobs that are out there right now and the jobs of the future." Similarly, Gov. Mitt Romney used the first debate to argue that federal money needed to be filtered down to the states to make sure workers can "get in the training they need for the jobs that will really help them." Yet the effectiveness of retraining programs as an antidote to the uncertainty of the job market is as yet unproven.

Washington Post writer Amy Goldstein's study of the retraining programs at Wisconsin's Blackhawk Technical College (a program praised by Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan) casts doubt on their value in enabling dislocated workers to find gainful employment.

Blackhawk Technical College has retrained over 1,000 dislocated workers since 2008 when the closure of the General Motors' Janesville Assembly Plant caused more than 5,000 layoffs throughout the immediate area. However, Goldstein's findings show that retraining programs at Blackhawk aren't as successful as politicians would have you believe.

  • 1,740 dislocated workers started classes at Blackhawk between the summer of 2008 and 2010.
  • Of these retrained, only 521 went on to earn money consistently across the year, 532 earned money only sporadically. A full 40 percent did not go on to find employment at all.
  • Those who did find gainful employment saw an average drop in earnings of 36 percent.
  • Compared to dislocated workers who didn't seek retraining Blackhawk attendees fared worse in seeking employment. In 2011 laid-off workers who retrained at Blackhawk earned an average of $3,348 a quarter compared to laid-off workers who did not retrain who earned $7,239.

Only one-third of Blackhawk attendees actually manage to graduate, matching the national average for community colleges.

Obama's administration has spent billions of dollars on retraining programs. No matter who wins next month, that spending is likely to continue.