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Whither Workforce Training?

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issue brief

Whither Workforce Training?

August 8, 2012

With unemployment rates exceeding 8 percent for over three years, increased focus has been placed on workforce training and job-search assistance for the unemployed. On June 14 in Cleveland, at Cuyahoga Community College, President Obama declared: "I have a plan to give 2 million more Americans the chance to go to community colleges just like this one and learn the skills that businesses are looking for right now."

The administration now administers 47 programs at a cost of $18 billion annually. However well-intentioned these programs, they are costly, many produce mixed results, and there is much overlap within the federal job training programs.

Workforce training programs have existed since the 1960s and have generally been unsuccessful: they have been expensive and have not fulfilled their goals. From the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act in the 1970s, to the Job Training Partnership Act in the 1980s, to the multitude of programs today, federal job training programs have disappointed their proponents.

Most of the major federal job training programs have had difficulty meeting even the most modest of targeted goals, and there is often a mismatch between training programs and jobs offered. There is a substantial demand for people to work in the health-care sector, for example, but training programs for nurses are oversubscribed.

Should the government wish to fund training programs, it makes the most sense to block-grant the $18 billion using a state population and unemployment formula and devolve the programs to the states. The real question is why the federal government is in the job training business at all, because it has little knowledge of individual states' needs. It would be far better for individual states to raise taxes and craft their own job training programs, or to contract with private companies and community colleges to do so.

The first part of this issue brief reviews the success rate of the major job training programs. The second part presents alternatives from the administration and the House of Representatives. The issue brief concludes with recommendations.