Employment

Do Job Training Programs Actually Work?

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http://www.blackhawk.edu/Portals/_default/Skins/Blackhawk/images/btc-sign.jpg

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.

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  1. Not surprising. “Job retraining” is one of those ideas that sounds good in theory but rarely works.

    1. Case in point:

      Those who did find gainful employment saw an average drop in earnings of 36 percent.

      Which is typical if you’re switching career fields, anyway. If they stay in, they’ll have a chance to move up, but how many will be willing to sacrifice some former lifestyle comforts until that happens?

      1. Exactly. A cut is to be expected when you start off on a new ground floor. It’s that only 30% find regular work that’s a problem.

    2. What? Just throw money at the problem. That’ll fix it.

      1. No, that has only made it worse which means we need to throw some money at it to fix the problem of throwing money at it.

  2. One caveat, the two populations being compared are not the same…

    Odds are that people who are proficient and likely to get another job in their field eschew the training, while people who know they suck are going to seek it out.

    1. Exactly.

  3. “federal money needed to be filtered down to the states”

    What federal money?

    1. true story. Got my degree at age 33. Half my fellow students social work majors. All of the social work majors were there because their social worker thought they would make good social workers.

  4. Maybe the people who put GM cars together weren’t the best and brightest… Certainly, GM owners have occasionally found themselves saying something like that, laced with obscenities, over the years.

    Retraining would seem to work best on bright, flexible people who only need a little more knowledge to reapply skills and talents they already have, and who are willing to go where the jobs are.

  5. human labor is still required to manufacture cars??

    1. Not the cars that people actually buy, no.

    2. humanThe Department of Labor is still required to manufacture cars??

  6. Wow… the people who went into the jobs programs were making less than minimum wage per quarter? assuming they worked 40 hrs per week every week for the quarter.

    1. Why would you assume that?

  7. Apropos of nothing, what kind of job training do prostitutes get?

    1. Porn vids, maybe?

  8. My circle of acquaintances – managers and professionals – wish to hell they could find competent plumbers, electricians, carpenters,
    tilers, etc. to do home maintenance projects instead of doing them – half-assedly – themselves. But the going rate seems to be $75/hr or more. Why can’t laid off machinists, forklift operators, assemblers,
    etc. get re-trained and offer handyman services for, say, $35 per hour? If they were just a little better than the average white collar husband, they’d have a ton of work.

    1. “Why can’t laid off machinists, forklift operators, assemblers,
      etc. get re-trained and offer handyman services for, say, $35 per hour?”

      Licensing.

      1. Barriers to entry! Woo-hoo!

        1. Sounds like my love life.

        2. You don’t really expect our credentialled, experienced tradesmen to COMPETE with a bunch of mere community college graduates? What about apprenticeships? What about union dues? What about licenses?

          1. competition is the answer when the topic is your field. It is not when the topic is my racket.

    2. I find them on Craigslist all the time for cheap.

      You’re taking your chances, but I’ve been pleased with the results the vast majority of the time, and only been burned a couple of times.

  9. Just because retraining is happening in a certain locale doesn’t mean their are jobs their for their new found skills. Might have to move. I suspect many are willing to live on the dole than move.

  10. Why can’t laid off machinists, forklift operators, assemblers,
    etc. get re-trained and offer handyman services for, say, $35 per hour? If they were just a little better than the average white collar husband, they’d have a ton of work.

    If the welfare check pays you $55 an hour, there’s less incentive to get out and find work, or hope something else comes along that will keep you in the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed.

    That’s one the biggest hurdles of this depression, is overcoming roughly a half-century of increasingly building your economy around the purchase of consumer goods via various forms of debt from credit cards to car loans to student loans to low-interest mortgages. If a society is conditioned to live beyond its means, it becomes much more difficult to scale back and learn to live with less–less house, a beater car, fewer dinners out, patching holes in clothes, no cable TV. Our grandparents and great-grandparents managed to do this during the 1930s and put with rationing in the war years because many of them didn’t have all that much to lose to begin with.

    It takes a lot of strength of character to admit that you can’t spend as much anymore, especially if you have family members who will inevitably wail at every cutback (which, I guess, is a perfect metaphor for why our government is in such pathetic shape).

  11. I suspect that the big gap in your work history represented by the retraining program doesn’t do you employment prospects or earnings any favors, either.

    1. “Did I mention, though, that this was the *Obama* retraining program?”

      1. Obama Magical Mystery Training Tour

        Obama Magical Mystery Training Tour Trainee, 2011-2012

        * Was personally trained by President Barack Obama, a man who needs no introduction.

      2. Ok this is a threadwinner.

  12. Do Job Training Programs Actually Work?

    Of course they work! They keep hundreds of trainers employed, on our penny!

    If that is not a measure of accomplishment, I don’t know what is… [tongue squarely in cheek]

  13. I’m not sure a simple comparison of “laid of workers who got retraining” to “all laid of workers” is a valid comparison. If you think about, most people are going to try to get rehired in the same career and only seek retraining after that’s failed for a significant amount of time. So you we expect the ones showing up for retraining to be the least employable subset of laid off workers. As a result you’d expect them to end up being paid less than the entire population.

    Does the disparity remain if you start controlling for things like length of unemployment?

    1. Good point. The best and brightest found jobs without retraining.

  14. If there aren’t jobs, job training programs aren’t going to do much. (Ditto college degrees.) Stagnant wages plus falling labor force participation means there isn’t much labor demand.

  15. Blackhawk Technical College has retrained over 1,000 dislocated workers since 2008

    Do YOU know what these fucking “training” programs do? They totally screw up people’s opportunity cost schedules, enticed by the fact that they’re “free”. If they weren’t free, people would be much more careful in doing their homework, looking at what the market really requires to then choose the right training program/trade school curriculum for their chosen path. Either that or receive their training at work.

    The Law of Unintended Consequences raises its ugly head from the chasm of economic ignorance as it is summoned by the evil priests of government.

  16. Way OT: Amazon EC2 cloud having major problems. Lotta major websites currently offline.

  17. But…but…gubmint programs always work! Well, just because! Gubmint!

  18. Do Job Training Programs Actually Work?

    No. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to hire from pools of “job trained” people. They fail simple math tests. You know what worth people have in a print shop when they can’t read a ruler? They’re worth getting them out of the shop!

  19. Romney is probably guilty of this, as a businessman, but so many businesses don’t want to train employees. I’m on WSJ a lot and a common theme in business articles is CEO: “waaaah! We can’t find any highly skilled workers to work for a pittance! We spend all this money on consultants to help us when looking for cheap workers with obscure yet advanced skill sets! But we just can’t find secretaries with app development skills, giant twitter followings, and government security clearances! Poor us!”

    And as long as everyone thinks it’s NOT the job of a business to put a little money into training their employees, they won’t do it.

    1. Couldn’t it be possible that when it comes to training on the job, the numbers don’t add up? Yes they wail and moan, but if it made fiscal sense, they’d still do it anyway.
      Must just be their blinding greed.

  20. “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.”

    Not that I’m in a rush to endorse massive government-funded retraining but, statistically, this statement doesn’t mean much. It’s entirely possible that those who did NOT seek retraining already had the skills/knowledge to get good jobs.

    They didn’t necessarily do better because they didn’t get retrained, they might have skipped retraining because they could already do better.

    1. Maybe government funded training provides a valuable signal to potential employers that this is a person not to hire.

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