Monday, May 11, 2009

The Skills Story

"THE PRESIDENT: We set out a goal in my speech to the joint session that said everybody should have at least one year of post-high-school training. And I think it would be too rigid to say everybody needs a four-year-college degree. I think everybody needs enough post-high-school training that they are competent in fields that require technical expertise, because it’s very hard to imagine getting a job that pays a living wage without that — or it’s very hard at least to envision a steady job in the absence of that."

David Leonhardt,"After the Recession," New York Times Magazine, May 3, 2009.

How much difference a year makes. I remember last spring wondering if there would ever be a positive statement about education and training of any sort during the primaries. Presidential candidates scoffed at education and training as a response to escalating layoffs.

A part of this was that there wasn't a compelling public story about the need for workforce development and sufficient evidence (at least in some minds) that these investments worked for low income, low skilled workers. I remember some advocates saying, "We tried investing in skills in the 1990s."

So a year later we have President Obama embracing smart investments in skills and post-secondary training, stimulus/recovery dollars supporting sector-based training and community colleges, and potential linkages between new industries and workforce. There's been a certain amount of enlightenment, but there's nothing like a deep recession to loosen up everyone's thinking.

And for all the naysayers about evidence, we have the new P/PV study, "Job Training That Works: Findings from the Sectoral Employment Impact Study," that shows experimental evidence indicating strong income effects from well-structured sector-based partnerships. As usual, the evidence comes after the policy, although the evaluation was undertaken to influence better policies. So it goes. And now we can figure out how to transform WIA.

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