Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Recession exposes US failures to retrain workers

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Despite the skyrocketing unemployment rate, many colleges and vocational groups have yet to see an influx of displaced workers. In a way, this is not surprising, given concerns about the safety of in-person teaching, the quality of online learning, and the lack of clarity on which jobs will recover from the economic crisis. .

“Job seekers are lagging behind,” said Kevin Holt, director of the Ohio Means Jobs center in Cincinnati, one of some 2,400 federally funded employment centers. “They’re scared, they don’t have daycare, they hope their unemployment will last them through this strange recession we are in.

This means that some groups and agencies that are advancing workforce retraining have not spent all the CARES money allocated to them at the start of the pandemic. The second stimulus bill, adopted at the end of December, expanded the one-year deadline, until December 31, 2021, for groups to spend these funds.

Avoid the mistakes of the past

But workforce experts say that image of empty classrooms and registration desks may soon change – and educational organizations need to be ready. They warn of a repeat of what happened after the Great Recession, when an infusion of federal funds quickly ran out, long before the recovery took hold. Employment centers were “overwhelmed” with laid-off workers and waiting lists numbered in the hundreds, said Stephanie Beckhorn, director of employment and training at the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

David Megenhardt, executive director of the United Labor Agency, which runs the one-stop-shop for employment in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, saw the same thing in his area. “During the Great Recession, many people lost their best earning years and may never have returned to the workforce, or returned well below the wages they earned in 2008,” he said. he declares. “We don’t want to lose a generation of people.”

So far, some community colleges and labor groups have stepped up short-term training to quickly attract people to available jobs, in areas like logistics and food production. They are also redoubling their efforts to prepare people for the career opportunities they focused on before the pandemic, such as healthcare, information technology and advanced manufacturing.

Project Quest, a San Antonio organization that offers multi-year, career-focused training, addition of shorter-term training this fall through a partnership with the city and other groups of people in occupations decimated by the pandemic. Participants receive free lessons plus a stipend. Project Quest will also benefit from a local effort to bolster the city’s workforce development programs as a whole: In November, residents of San Antonio voted overwhelmingly to approve a voting measure. for reassign an existing sales tax to help up to 40,000 workers retrain or earn college degrees focused on in-demand fields.

With money from the local county government, Lone Star College, which serves the greater Houston area, has set up no-credit programs for in-demand jobs that students could complete in less than three months. The free training focuses on preparing people for work in areas such as accounting, welding, nursing, and information technology. The college tries to introduce students in all programs to basic tech skills, said Linda Head, senior associate vice chancellor for external and employer relations. “More than ever, soft skills are important and computer skills matter,” she said, “so we had to integrate them.”

In Michigan, Beckhorn said his agency used federal CARES legislation and Department of Labor money to try to reduce financial barriers that prevent people from learning new skills. He recently helped launch Futures for Frontliners, which pays Michigan residents who worked essential jobs during the pandemic to attend two-year colleges without tuition. The program is part of an effort to to reinforce the proportion of people in the state with a post-secondary education to 60% by 2030, up from 45% in 2019.

Going forward, Deming, of Harvard, said he would like to see a big federal investment in long-term workforce development, with a focus on community colleges and other institutions that ‘he believes he is best equipped to work with local industry to prepare students for careers in demand. During the Great Recession, the government increased the size of federal Pell Grants for low-income students, to help more Americans afford training. But it did little to help community colleges get out of the financial squeeze they faced from declining state revenues, which forced these institutions to cut programs and seats. This meant that many students who wanted to retrain instead took their federal money from for-profit schools that have a poor record of graduate students and help them find high-paying jobs, he said.

Follow technological developments

Even with increased investment, community colleges and workforce groups may face challenges in providing people with the right skills, given the rapid pace of technological change and the opacity of what businesses are looking for. said Joseph Fuller, professor at Harvard Business School and co-director of the university. Manage the Future of Work project.

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