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Where is the value in short-term training programs?

There’s a growing demand for short-term training programs, mostly by employers who cannot find workers. But significant questions remain about the value of the rapid-training strategy.

The idea is to put potential workers through short training programs to give them basic skills. Once trained, these individuals can work in a high-demand field. “Short” is hard to pin down. Some programs last hours or days, others may run for weeks or months. Few take more than a year to complete. Equally squishy is the “high demand” nature of the unfilled jobs.

Typically, a state or federal agency funds a short-term training program to return unemployed people to the workforce. But studies have shown that while these rapid-training programs may get people into jobs in the near-term, only about one-third of short-term training participants are still working in the field in which they trained four years later.

So, there’s a lot of churn among employers that routinely beg for these programs. The question isn’t so much one of worker availability, but rather, worker retention.
Employers and trade groups quickly highlight jobs where workers can earn $28-$30 per hour with ample overtime. But these jobs don’t reflect most jobs waiting for those who take this route into the workforce. For example, last summer, WCC offered a short-course training program for senior care workers. According to WCC, the program placed workers in jobs with a starting pay of $12. The $12-per-hour jobs are more typical of what awaits workers who complete these short-term training programs.

$12 per hour might be the reason that so many employers in this field have difficulty filling these positions and why these employers need a “talent pipeline” in the first place. Not too many adults can survive on less than $25,000 per year.

Short-term training programs don’t help workers

Rather than investing in the creation of “talent pipelines” for low-wage jobs, why not invest in training programs that may take more time, but also put workers into higher paying jobs that they hang onto? Better still, base funding for these short training programs on the starting salaries for the jobs they’re intended to produce? If the resulting job does not pay a worker at least a living wage for the area, decline to fund the training program.

This may come as a surprise to some people, but workers don’t like changing careers much. Moving from job to job to job is exhausting, stressful and economically unrewarding. Each change puts workers – who may not earn a lot to begin with – economically farther behind. Studies of workers who completed short-term training programs after losing a job showed that while retrained workers could find new jobs, their new positions often paid less than their previous ones. More than a year later, these displaced workers still had not recovered their lost income.

Low- and middle-wage workers who lose their jobs are often penalized twice: once when they lose their job, and again when they return to the workforce in lower-wage positions they acquired through government-funded, short-term training programs.

The community college should refuse to produce or conduct short-term training programs that result in low-wage positions. The constant churn among workers who cannot survive on $12/hour invalidates the public investment in these programs. Until employers can demonstrate that their chronic underpayment of workers DOES NOT cause their worker shortage, we should not reward them with free workforce development services.

Photo Credit: denisbin , via Flickr