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Legacy Policies And Practice On Training May Be Holding Workers Back

There’s often a lot of talk from politicians and pundits about jobs, and jobs creation.  But Northeast Ohio recently served as one of a handful regions trying a different way to help workers. 

A two-year program called Work Advance connected employers and organizations to people looking for new careers.  The program offered help with resume writing, mock interviews, technical training, and career planning.  It was a one-stop shop for job-seekers, and it seemed to work. 

Mark Muro is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution whose focus includes labor. ideastream's Tony Ganzer talked to him about why this idea of giving more support to workers to succeed, seems so new.

MURO: “I think we simply haven’t had to think very deeply, or enough, in this country about training.  Especially in some of the manufacturing occupations for a long time it was just a question of getting low-skilled people to the jobsite, and that’s become much more complicated now.”

GANZER: “There’s also kind of a philosophy difference here: we’ve been focused for so long on ‘jobs,’ you know job creation, but this particular program is focusing on careers.  And to me that seems like a no-brainer—why do you think we weren’t doing that before?”

MURO: “I don’t know.  The United States has not, in most of its regions, been particularly good at this.  Frequently industry has viewed the preparation of workers as somebody else’s responsibility, meanwhile the training infrastructure is often pursued a kind of social services model and hasn’t really looked very carefully at the job market that it was serving, and that has not led to good results. Now I think we’re in the midst of a sea change.  Over the last decade I think there’s been much greater thought on both sides about the importance of training, the difficulty on doing it right, and the need to essentially co-develop solutions.  And I would say it’s a hallmark of many of the best solutions that they involved very fine-grained collaboration between employers and the training apparatus.”

GANZER: “It seems like the organizations which helped bring WorkAdvance to Northeast Ohio consider the pilot program to be a success.  Do you see this as something that’s sustainable? That we can keep going, and keep implementing, maybe plug-and-play into all regions?”

MURO: “Much is not the same in each industry, but much is.  And I think we’re seeing here is the emergence of a conceptual methodology that gets the basics right, and then can allow use in multiple industries. I think you have a really strong model for the region in multiple industries, and conceptually maybe for many places and many industries across the country. That is part of what is so exciting about it.”

GANZER: “What’s the biggest roadblock here to making this the way we do things in this country?”

MURO: “There’s just a lot of legacy, default behavior and practices and policy in place that does impede this.  I think there’s also some assumptions that are beginning to dissipate, but are a problem.  Frequently industry thinks that the public sector can’t deliver, and is therefore suspicious or disengaged.  And I think on the workforce training system side there’s a sense that sometimes they don’t get access or real engagement from the private sector, and both of those sorts of engagement are very important.”

GANZER: “If you had to guess, what is our time horizon for something like this to catch fire, and really change the way that the United States is doing business in retraining workers?  Do you think this a decade project if there’s a will, and a way?”

MURO:“We’re not talking about fundamental educational change.  I think some of this can happen faster than that.  But I think to reach the kind of scale to truly move the career pathway and economic development dials, it would take a decade to transform a state, but I think in the scheme of things a decade isn’t that long.”

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