Part 3: Job Training Dilemma

Corporate America still sees job training as an expense not an investment. When there is a budget crunch in a company, one of the first functions to be cut is job training. That’s the way it always was. In the latter part of the 20th century, training professionals sought “a seat at the table.” This means that training professionals have been trying to get access to top management by being present at top level decision-making processes. Having a vice presidential post in the top management organizational chart is a move in the right direction. For many years, training has been delivered both synchronously (live sessions) and asynchronously (stored sessions delivered at scheduled times) over the Internet. In fact, primary and secondary education is delivered over the Internet, not only just college-level curricular activities. The training function has been outsourced, at times off-shored, and perhaps even “outlawed” in the spirit of using the on-the-job training option, and using “temps” who need to “hit the ground running.”

The velocity of change has certainly hindered the job training process. The U.S. educational system has had a difficult time keeping up with the types of skills needed in order to determine the appropriate courses or workshops to offer students. The PC revolution of the 1980’s put a computer on every desktop. No longer was the “mainframe” locked up in an air-conditioned room. The Internet revolution has allowed continuous communication around the world. Your customer service call is answered by someone in another country and perhaps from another continent! Many operations within a company are run by project management. Once the defined “project” has been completed, all team members are dispersed to another project. As happens mostly these days, the team members have been hired on as independent consultants, they are not employees of the company, and thus must find another assignment to keep working steadily.

The idea of “work” has evolved from employment at one company until one retires to a series of jobs, perhaps even careers, until one retires.

As an industrial age society, we built our schools to inculcate children with the factory process. Whistles called the people to work, a school bell called students to school. The school bell rang at the end of the school day, factory whistles signaled the end of the work day. Everything was regimented. The school day was divided into several segments of learning. The teacher stood in the front of the room lecturing and the students sat (supposedly very still) listening and hopefully learning. The late 20th century educational system evolved to accommodate more effective learning strategies thanks to the computer and the Internet.

The McKinsey Report (2011) entitled “Internet Matters: The Net’s sweeping impact on growth, jobs, and prosperity” states “The Internet has transformed the way we live, the way we work, the way we socialize and meet, and the ways our countries develop and grow.” This has all happened in about two decades.  That’s only 20 years! Only 20 years.

When we don’t have a continuous policy of job training whether on the national or local level, how can we adjust to change, let alone such rapid change as that caused by technology.  Is it a question of who is responsible for job training of the individual? I think it is. Sometimes help is given from the national level or the regional or local level to the individual worker. This help depends upon whether the worker was part of a large lay-off or did the individual just quit his/her job or was he/she fired. Large lay-offs cause enough economic concern that they make the headlines and perhaps politicos are motivated to “do something.” Whether a worker is coming to the unemployment office from “Humongous & Company” or “Teenie & Son”, the policy and procedure should be the same. Because of budget cuts and other fiscal shenanigans, employment offices get closed, programs get cut. Maybe the programs deserve to be cut because they are no longer relevant to the goal of getting workers back to work. That’s great, fine tune the job training system because it’s been a “response” mechanism instead of an “anticipation” system all its life.

Although we do not have crystal balls to anticipate all the new jobs being created by the rapid advances in technology and Corporate America’s response to these advances by creating new jobs, we have a pretty good idea of the skills needed for white collar jobs and blue collar jobs. Unfortunately older workers have been decimated by the job losses of the last few years. Getting them up to speed quickly enough to perform many of the newer jobs now available is not feasible. Everything has a “learning curve.” Companies want a “contract” employee to hit the ground running even though he/she does not know anything about the company’s informal network. Expectations of performance are extremely high so the idea of an apprentice program makes more sense. Technology and the Internet have compressed “time” so much that a sense of urgency pervades our lives, especially in Business because of instantaneous communication.

Maybe the answer to a “skills-ready” employment force is constant compulsory skills evaluation of all working people. Uh, oh, the work compulsory is a scary word isn’t it! It smells of “there oughta be a law.” Well, how about there “oughta” be a lifelong evaluation process for workers. As jobs and industries start to fade away, workers in these industries can be identified and evaluated for job training elsewhere. Too bad our forefathers could not foresee such a dilemma. Perhaps if our Constitution stated “life, liberty, job training, and the pursuit of happiness,” legislation passed throughout our history might have been more long sighted and better funded.

There are those who want the elimination of the Dept. of Labor (as well as other Federal agencies). The general feeling is that whenever the “government” gets involved things get too expensive and too complicated. That reasoning is true but some structure and oversight is needed to control and guide good intentions to desirable outcomes.

For information on the history of job-related legislation enacted by Congress, see this link.

For Part 1 of this series, see: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs and the Mono-economy of the New Millennium

For Part 2 of this series, see: Past prescriptions to the jobs employment problem

For Part 4 of this series, see: Part 4: Jobs & jobs training, the more things change, the more they stay the same

Part 5A: Jobs and the Re-tooling of an Industrial Titan: Chicago

Part 5B: Jobs Training and the search for long-term solutions

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