Saturday, January 12, 2013

Training, Skills, & Other Fairy Tales

Time for Wisconsin to get a new playbook. I haven't heard a single innovative idea for economic development from any of the supposed experts being quoted in the media, nor from our development agencies. Just more regurgitation of development hucksterism. And, if what we hear from the Walker administration is any indication of our current state of development, we're still stuck in the '80s.

Research parks, stadiums, venture capital, etc. Why are we continuing with proposals that have already either run their course or been proven ineffective?

Here we go again.

As I wrote back in May 2009: 
Gordon Lafer, associate professor at the University of Oregon, in his expansive and definitive work on job training, The Job Training Charade, states, “Job training has served primarily as a form of political diversion. At both the federal and local levels of government, the rhetoric of job training has encouraged a discourse about poverty and unemployment which minimizes the public’s expectations of government. If poverty were viewed largely as the result of a shortage of jobs, and the government were held responsible as employer of last resort, scores of mayors and governors would have been thrown out of office in response to the dislocations of the past two decades. By instead promoting a view of poverty as largely rooted in the educational, cultural, and moral failings of poor communities, the assumptions underlying training policy suggest that the government could not be expected to provide more than marginal assistance toward solving this problem.

As noted in this review of Gordon Lafer’s work, “The commonsense idea that there are plenty of jobs to go around if only the unemployed and the poor had the motivation and the skills to fill them…The number of decently-paid jobs that were available over the last twenty years has never been more than a fraction of the number needed to raise the poor beyond the poverty level…Except for certain professional positions that require specialized and highly controlled education and that compromise a very small portion of the labor market, variables such as gender, age, race, and whether or not workers are unionized, are more important determinants of the levels of employment and wages than are the levels of education.”

David Howell, professor at Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, observes, “In short, employers in the 1980s responded to increased competitive pressures by taking a low-road human resource strategy, one aimed above all at reducing current labor costs…In a great many industries, workers learned new skills to work with more advanced production technologies – but their higher productivity was not reflected in higher wages…In the 1980s, higher skills have simply not led to higher wages. In industry after industry, average educational attainment rose while wages fell.”
The article (Gov. Walker May Be Poised To Reorganize Job Training) also declares "the state's skills mismatch" as one of the reasons to reorganize job training. Two disproven ideas in one article, now that's efficiency. Job training is pointless unless there are actual jobs available (that pay a commensurate wage for the skills). And, skills mismatch is a clever rebranding for what is actually just low wages.

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