Can more job training create more jobs?

An advanced trainee studying mechanical engineering operates a milling machine at the Siemens training center. Re-training the unemployed might just give some job seekers an edge over others.

Jeremy Hobson: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the U.S. is not doing a good job retraining unemployed workers -- at least compared with other industrialized nations. Well if the OECD is right, and the U.S. did a better at retraining, would it bring down the unemployment rate?

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman has that story.


Mitchell Hartman: Let’s start with two job seekers I met at the unemployment office here in Portland, Ore.

Pam Seidel lost her job working in a warehouse last year. With $250-per-week on unemployment, she says there’s no money left to pay for trade school or community college. So she’s out there with just her high school diploma.

Pam Seidel: There’s a lot of people out there looking for work. It’s horrible.

Sitting at the next table is Elvia Gonzalez. She’s a CNA, a certified nursing assistant. She saved up before losing her job.

Elvia Gonzalez: I’m going to come back to school and get training in the same profession I have right now. I’m not worried. I know I’m going to have a job.

It’s a good bet. Any additional certificate Gonzalez gets -- in elder care, say, or rehab -- will give her an edge.

Which brings us to the nub of the problem, says labor economist Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute. There are nearly four job seekers competing for every available job right now.

Heidi Shierholz: So, training may help certain individuals. But it is not going to solve the unemployment problem. Because what you’ll have then is more highly trained workers competing for the same very, very scarce jobs.

Many economists and industry groups disagree. They say more Americans would be able to find jobs, if only they had more job skills: better math and science, computer training to work with electronic medical records or robotics.

Gardner Carrick of the Manufacturing Institute says 600,000 jobs are vacant because employers can’t find qualified workers.

Gardner Carrick: Because they can’t fill current jobs, they can’t take new orders, so they can’t create new jobs.

Shierholz counters that, even if every company could miraculously find all the skilled workers they needed -- it wouldn’t dent the unemployment rate much.

She does think we should invest more to re-train the unemployed, it’ll help both workers and the companies that hire them. She just doesn’t think it’ll do much to jump-start economic growth or job-creation.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

 

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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