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Brandon Roberts

Brandon Roberts

Posted: July 20, 2010 07:41 PM

Since When Do Education and Training Create Jobs?

This article was co-written by Brandon Roberts and David Altstadt on behalf of the Working Poor Families Project.

Stop the presses! College students, drop out now. Working adults --- don't even think about returning to the classroom.

Your aspirations for increasing your education and occupational skills are futile. You are doomed to graduate jobless and mired in debt, faced with no other choice but compete with the countless unemployed for entry-level, low-wage jobs at Wal-Mart.

At least that is what The New York Times seemingly wants you to believe in the July 18 piece, "After Training, Still Scrambling for Employment."

The NY Times supports its claims with a few anecdotes about newly trained and college-educated Americans who remain out of work, along with a smattering of damning statistics on the poor job placement rates of federally financed training programs. Interestingly, a previous NY Times article documenting the employment woes of recent college graduates did not blame the education institutions for their joblessness.

The chilling effect is palpable. Several readers commenting on the Times article appear ready to abandon their plans to enroll in college or job training.

Let's get a few things straight.

For starters, not all postsecondary education and job training programs are created equal. For every poor performing program identified, several others excel at preparing and placing participants in good-paying jobs. In an earlier post, we noted that some states have achieved better results than others in retraining and reemploying laid-off workers.

Second, education and job training do not create jobs. However, the U.S. economy will not rebound unless we invest in the education and skills of the workforce. Think of workforce development as a form of photosynthesis for the U.S. economy--the labor market cannot grow unless we feed it highly educated and skilled workers.

Consider research recently released by Georgetown University:

• The U.S. economy will create 46.8 million job openings by 2018, including 13.8 newly created jobs and 33 million "replacement" positions produced when workers retire.
• Nearly two-thirds of these jobs will demand postsecondary education and training.

In fact, the fastest growing occupations all require that workers have college-level education and training. These include (1) managerial and professional office, (2) education, (3) healthcare professional and technical, (4) scientific, technical, engineering, mathematic, and social sciences (STEM), and (5) community services and arts.

Given the current paucity of new jobs, what better time for students and working adults to enhance their education and skill levels? Surely there is no doubt that the future global competitiveness of the U.S. economy is tied to an educated and skilled workforce.

Even amid the current economic troubles, employers are having a hard time finding qualified workers. According to another recent NY Times article, skill shortages can be found even in declining industries, such as manufacturing.

Instead of dismissing the value of retraining laid-off workers, we should focus on how to make publicly financed education and training programs more adept at matching supply with demand. That is, training workers for the jobs and skills that employers need now and in the near future.

According to a recent evaluation of training programs, Public-Private Ventures has found that training providers that work with employers to determine skill requirements for available jobs are most successful at placing jobseekers in steadier, higher-paid positions. And, notably, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama Administration is targeting training resources to high-growth industry sectors such as healthcare.

Why turn our backs on a postsecondary education and training system that is clearly the ticket to good-paying middle class jobs and economic security, in addition to being the envy of much of the world? Instead, perhaps we should turn our attention to analyzing and writing about why private-sector employers are failing to create jobs in this country.


Brandon Roberts manages the Working Poor Families Project (WPFP), and David Altstadt conducts research on the education, skill development, and employment needs of low-skilled adults.