Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Atlantic Monthly piece--The False Promises of Worker Retraining--or how retraining all the non-college attenders in new skill sets for jobs that don't necessarily exist doesn't quite work

Worker retraining is a classic chicken-or-egg dilemma. Employers don’t want to expand or relocate without the availability of an already-skilled workforce. Workers who have been laid off through corporate downsizing or because their jobs were shipped to a foreign country don’t want to dedicate the time and effort needed to go through retraining without the pledge of a sure-fire job with the same or a better paycheck.
So when you plug real people into the easy fixes designed by policy wonks, the situation suddenly becomes more complicated: Older workers who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for decades are frightened by going back to school. Men don’t want to train for the jobs that are left in town, particularly in health care, because of the stigma of being employed in occupations traditionally filled by women—a phenomena that Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University labor economist, has frequently called an “identity mismatch,” rather than a skills mismatch. And in a country founded by people on the move, unemployed workers are unwilling to relocate to find work.
For many dislocated workers—or employees who were terminated and are unlikely to return to that job or even that industry—it’s often easier to collect unemployment or other cash benefits that come along with training and then either remain jobless or patch together work that doesn’t require learning a new skill or acquiring a college degree. But that’s not a recipe for sustainable careers or even long-term work. As a result of the 2008 recession, the U.S. shed 1.6 million manufacturing jobs requiring just a high-school diploma; only 200,000 returned.
The fastest-growing jobs in the country require training and education beyond high school. Between now and 2024, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the United States will be home to some 16 million openings for middle-skill jobs—those that require more education than a high-school diploma but typically not a bachelor’s degree. Some 40 percent of them pay more than $55,000 a year; another 14 percent pay more than $80,000. The National Skills Coalition has found that these jobs in sectors such as computer technology, health care, construction, and high-skill manufacturing account for 53 percent of the labor market, but only 43 percent of middle-skill workers are sufficiently trained.
“The U.S. faces a serious skills gap,” said Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta in June when announcing the administration’s executive actions to expand training opportunities, mostly through apprenticeships. Referring to the discrepancy between what employers need and what skills workers have, he pointed out that the U.S. has 6 million jobs—1 million in the health-care sector alone—the most since the Labor Department started keeping track since last decade.

Any number of the "fastest growing cities" are expensive to live in, expensive to move to, and have niche markets that can fizzle by the time any number of people have moved there.  I don't even really remember the dot com boom being a boom I could really participate in much.  I'm not exactly counting the month or so I spent in a warehouse packing thousands of items into small boxes.  That was worse than season after season of work in unionized vegetable canneries because there was no stability to it and the pay wasn't that great.  It was for a company that was considered one of the "it" start-ups but it was mainly a lame two months and trundling off to L&I. 

But the prospect of continuing education or worker retraining was generally also a dead end.  There are any number of reasons for that, I suppose, but some of it was that I got one of those communications degrees (journalism) that was already a gutted job market.  Had I tried to get a degree in biblical studies it would have been worse, or if I'd done an English major probably.  I'm not what I'd call the best interview in job-seeking terms.  Though I perhaps have a capacity for politesse I'm not sure I could say it's characteristic of me.  In the old days when I had a certain church affiliation I got told that I could be brutally confrontational in online interaction.  I didn't feel like I was being an especially cold-blooded sort but it's never just about how you perceive yourself.  At any rate, my acquired pessimism about the obscene level of debt college students get for liberal arts degrees on the one hand and the dead end of the job market if you don't happen to have translatable skills is what it is.  The old axiom that "it's not what you know, it's who you know" never seemed true.  It's never just what you know or who you know.  It's what you know and who you know in exactly the right, mysterious combination that works for the right people or you just don't land a job that's something to write home about. 

If someone were to make overtures of generating or restoring or reclaiming the kinds of jobs that have been lost in the contemporary economy, regardless of whether or not that person would be capable of doing so, or with the help of this or that set of people in a cabinet or advisory role, you might think that people might give that candidate a shot, even if maybe it's not the greatest idea.


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