Alert! A jobs program that actually leads to jobs!
The New York Times runs an editorial today that makes a very important argument: government programs that aim to funnel people into jobs need to include training that will actually make people employable, and hopefully employable in the long term.
Sounds simple. Jobs programs should train people for jobs. Better still: jobs programs should train people for jobs that are in demand.
But somewhere along the way this straightforward logic is abandoned.
"Too often," the editorial says, "the government treats such [job training programs] like arbitrary hoops for the unemployed to jump through if they expect to receive unemployment benefits." What results is a cyclical trap, people going through job programs without gaining any new training, and thus unable to land the jobs that will allow them to leave poverty and unemployment benefits behind. Instead, these people are left jumping through hoops.
This editorial pays particular attention to hooking laid-off workers up with the new skills they need in order to reflect the changing needs of industries. But workers looking to shift their skill set are hardly the only ones in need of a jobs program that actually has a little meat on its bones.
Interestingly, the editorial points to hollow rhetoric on the part of politicians: "American politicians give lip service to the idea that retraining can give laid-off workers a second, better chance in a globalizing economy." The problem is that they stop there, too often failing to add training to jobs programs. This reminds me of some other hollow rhetoric: 'People on welfare need to get into a job - any job, regardless of pay or benefits - as quickly as possible.' Never mind the facts that most quick-fix jobs have a shelf life of six months or less, pay poverty wages, lack health coverage, and lead right back to the cyclical trap of public assistance faced by those going through jobs programs that lack training.
This editorial profiles something that is working: Per Scholas, "which trains low-income residents to be computer-repair technicians. What makes the program so successful is consulting closely with area businesses when it puts together its curriculum, to ensure that its graduates have the skills they need to get hired. That can mean something as simple as asking employers what kind of certification they require or as immediate as letting a company train one of its instructors." So not only is Per Scholas training people, but training them for jobs that are in demand, and that will lead to financial security and self-sufficiency. Jackpot.
80% of Per Scholas graduates have been placed into jobs. This success rate reminds me of another statistic: 88% of women on welfare who graduate from college move permanently out of poverty and into financial security. Not only that, but their children have a much higher instance of economic wellbeing as well.
Just as Per Scholas has built its success on training people for jobs that pay well and need to be filled, welfare to work programs stand to be greatly improved if they allow recipients to access the training and education that will prepare them for good, in-demand jobs--not just lead back to quick fix programs that shuffle them into any job, however short-term or poorly paying.
According to the US Department of Labor, 90% of the fastest growing jobs in the United States require some level of post-secondary education or training. Welfare to work programs, just like jobs programs, will be much more successful if they actually prepare workers to fill the jobs our economy needs.