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No crystal ball for jobs

QuickPoint!

Federal job retraining programs ended up helping only 44 percent of the Oregonians who enrolled. Employment trends are difficult for anyone, let alone a federal bureaucracy, to predict. Thus, haphazardly throwing training at Oregon’s unemployment problem is a prescription to waste billions of dollars.

A few years ago, technology companies provided the solution to this challenge. With a deficit in qualified workers, “unqualified” people were hired and trained on the job. Entry-level workers could quickly move to management positions. Market forces provided data on which skill sets were needed, and both employers and employees benefited from this information. In Oregon, with the second highest unemployment rate in the country, many families have cut luxuries out of their budgets; luxuries like expensive meals, facials and pedicures. Yet in the last three years, federal retraining dollars paid for 500 Oregonians to receive beautician training-and compete for an average of 124 openings per year.

A century ago, half the U.S. population worked in agriculture. More efficient farming practices, technological advances and different manufacturing methods reduced the need for farmers and increased demand for a different type of worker-a demand met by people willing to learn new skills based on job availability.

Critics of the federal retraining program point out in The Oregonian, “Predicting job growth, critical to placing workers in the right training programs, is an inexact science.” Science? How can any “retraining” program succeed with no true link to market demands?

Nicole Williams is director of publications at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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