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Unifying Federal Training Programs

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Back in the late 1800s, people who could afford it traveled by rail and there were many railroads to choose from. Several of them converged on Washington, D.C., where they made a frightful noise, scared the horses and bathed the town in black smoke. Some of the tracks ran down on the Mall where they were a conspicuous eyesore.

Congress stepped in to the rescue, decreeing that all of the railroads would share one station that was named Union Station reflecting the common usage by all of the rail services. It is now a permanent fixture on Capitol Hill.

President Obama's announcement at his State of the Union address that he would ask Vice President Joseph Biden to conduct an across-the-board review of federal job training programs offers Congress another chance to promote unity. Without question, the plethora of federal job training programs is a mass of confusion and wasteful duplication. The Government Accountability Office had identified 47 job training programs in nine agencies that spent $18 billion in 2009. The House Education and Workforce Committee says the GAO left out at least nine programs.

And of course these are just federal programs we're talking about. There are hundreds more at the state and local level, and even more in the private sector -- including the Manufacturing Institute's "Dream It, Do It" initiative that I helped get airborne many years ago and that is doing great work. It may be that the best training programs are in fact at the state and local level.

Almost none of these federal programs conducts any sort of review to determine if they are being effective. Many of them have clearly become patronage pots of money for insiders to feast on. One of the biggest offenders is the Job Corps. Senator Tom Coburn said that in his home state of Oklahoma the Job Corps spends $76,000 per participant to place people in minimum wage jobs that require little if any training. Much of the money goes to provide entertainment such as horseback riding, bowling and movies.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial, Congress is ahead of President Obama in this quest to coordinate federal job training efforts. The House last year approved legislation to consolidate 35 overlapping programs and bring employers into the process.

Now the president has created an opening that business leaders -- especially in manufacturing -- cannot afford to ignore. There is a crying need in this country for effective job training programs that prepare people for real world jobs. A major reason for the success of Germany and Japan is their advanced programs for training bright young people for jobs in advanced manufacturing. Those people know there are good jobs waiting for them when they complete their training.

I urge the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Business and other business groups to come up with a unified business/government plan to train a new generation of workers for jobs that actually exist.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. You may quote from this with attribution. Let me know if you would like to speak with Jerry. February 2014