The Dilemmas of Workforce Training

A lot of authorities are disappointed with efforts in the U.S. to establish a successful and unified workforce training strategy. Everybody knows that the new economy necessitates that many students learn and master highly sophisticated technical skills to get good jobs.

But it’s not happening at near the pace it should, according to Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, in an interview with Lolade Fadulu, in The Atlantic. Mr. Carnevale served on President George W. Bush’s White House Commission on Technology and Adult Education and on President Bill Clinton’s National Commission on Employment Policy.

Apprenticeships are a fashionable topic these days, but Mr. Carnevale calls them “good PR” and a “shiny object.” Please read the article for details from a knowledgable source.

Our American problem is often psychological and reflects a certain bias. “Good” students enter higher education to pursue bachelor’s degrees and more. Status is involved as well as aptitude. We all know kids who really don’t want to take academic courses, and would be perfect in an apprenticeship program to learn technical skills, but it’s sort of a put-down in our society to steer in this direction.

Here is succinct passage from the interview:

Carnevale: Apprenticeship is a bright and shiny object. It is the gold standard for job training. Europeans invented it long before we ever did it. The [first] problem with apprenticeships in the U.S. is we can’t do much job training before the end of high school because if we do, we will end up putting African Americans, Latinos, working class, and poor kids into those programs and the rich white kids will go to college. Politically, we’re unable to do job training in the K-12 system, so it has to start after high school. We’ve mostly done it through a postsecondary-education and training system, which is mostly two-year and four-year schools—technical institutes.The no. 2 problem is that an apprenticeship in manufacturing and any technical field costs anywhere from $60,000 to $260,000 [per apprentice]. The employer normally pays for that. States and the federal government are about to give employers [even greater] tax breaks to have them do apprenticeships, but they aren’t going to give them $260,000 dollars.

These are formidable problems. Most community colleges and Texas State Technical College have workforce programs that are outstanding in certain fields, but you get the impression that we are running out of time in society as a whole. You may have seen news reports lately, for instance, regarding driverless trucks. Imagine what this will do to truck driving as an occupation. Robots are quickly replacing many service-sector occupations. Amazon is reportedly using “dark” warehouses, needing no human workers to sort merchandise.

All these changes will also create new jobs. Let’s hope we find a way to fill the positions by training people correctly.