Working for a living is something Americans take pride in. They work so they can be self-sufficient enough to pay for groceries, send their kids to good schools, take family vacations, and retire with dignity. Sure, everyone has rough patches in their work experience, but generally Americans see working as necessary and fulfilling. However, there are those in this country that have not found that fulfilling line of work necessary to take care of their families, and Congress has passed laws to help these Americans find what they are looking for.
At one point, there were 47 federal job training programs administered by nine different federal agencies costing over $18 billion annually. Congress implemented these programs over the years to stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work. Yet, there is little evidence that these programs succeed at stimulating the economy or get Americans back to work.
Take the second largest federal job training program, Job Corps, for instance. Job Corps’ mission is to teach young adults skills in order to to become “employable and independent, and place them in meaningful jobs or further education.” According to the most recent Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, “Job Corps was challenged in demonstrating the extent to which its training programs had helped participants enter meaningful jobs appropriate to their training,” and most were placed in jobs similar to their pre-training employment, or even returned to prior employers. Like one participant who worked at a fast food restaurant, graduated a 347 day carpentry training program, but only obtained a job as a pizza restaurant waiter. Though needed, most Americans would not consider a pizza waiter to be a meaningful job. Job Corps, however, considered this as a successful graduation and placement.
The report is eye-opening, including finding that Jobs Corps paid $70 million to contractors for placement services without sufficient evidence. The report also found that Job Corps is not documenting full employment history, making it impossible to determine if the program is providing meaningful outcomes, is paying for placement contractors who were found to only place 6% of program participants at a cost of $102.2 million, and those that do find work after program completion are not using their newly acquired skills and instead are going back to their former employer or similar jobs.
While this is just one program the federal government administers, this kind of report isn’t a one-off. Pursuit founder and former Senator Tom Coburn released a report in 2011 documenting the failure of federal job training programs. His report revealed that of the 47 employment and job training programs, half of them had not had a performance review since 2004. Further, almost half of the programs overlap with at least one other program, and “little is known about the effectiveness of most programs.”
While the abysmal effectiveness of job training programs may not seem like an urgency while we are at historically low unemployment, Congress should still address the clear failures happening in job training programs. It hasn’t stopped those outside of the beltway from finding a solution to fill the six million job vacancies in our country.
Last July, the Joint Economic Committee held a hearing concerning the six million job vacancies in the U.S. and the possible reasons and remedies for them. Panelists agreed that the United States as a whole is “overselling the bachelor’s degree,” and suggested there is an alternative path for young Americans. For example, one of the panelists who is the president of a community college, said they partnered with Honda to fill their urgent need for electro-mechanical engineers. The co-op program with Honda starts in high school, and students work at Honda while earning their associate degree, then transition into full-time Honda employees.
Federal job training results and Congress’s lack of willpower to administer them begs the unpopular solution of consolidation or elimination. Possibly even question whether Congress should be involved in job training programs at all. Is the Federal Government equipped to handle 21st century training, especially in the age of automation? After all, engineers and IT is probably a better bet for the future than pizza waiters.