Friday, July 10, 2009

Does Job Re-Training Work?

I saw an admittedly disheartening article about the poor results of job retraining programs in the New York Times. People are attending retraining programs, but the majority aren’t finding jobs in their new fields (and if they are, they’re not staying in those jobs for a long time).

The problems seem to stem from a few issues. First, these programs don’t address some of the challenges that arise when a person who has had a lifetime of employment in one industry try to work in a different one (a problem not only for the worker but of convincing hiring managers that the worker is worth hiring). Second, the data on which workers base their decisions about which fields to study is not completely reliable. Last, a weak and unpredictable economy has not produced any jobs in many fields; opportunity will not open up until the economy does.

Although looking at the issue from a different perspective, the findings in this article are similar to those of a study I read about in the mid-1990s, in which researchers compared the employment prospects of low-skilled workers who went to a several-month-long training program with those who merely went to a one- or two-hour resume writing workshop. Researchers found little difference in results among the two groups.

On the one hand, I work in the education industry, so on an instinctive level, I believe in the value of an education. Furthermore, I work in career-related education, so I believe in that, too. On the other hand, I do not have a blind faith. An education in a professional field alone does not guarantee someone a job. The job has to be there and, if it is, employers need to be willing to hire the candidate.

Much of the problem described in the New York Times article, however, results from the failure to properly identify what job skills will be in demand. Given the unpredictability of the economy, not sure how to fix that one.

Read the entire article at

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