As part of the “What Makes a Worker?” project by The Atlantic — supported by a grant from the Lumina Foundation — Lolade Fadulu explores why the U.S. has consistently fallen short when it comes to retraining workers. The state of today’s working climate seems to echo the 1980s: “the global economy is expanding, new technology is entering the workplace … and automation will create new jobs.” In response, policymakers and business leaders have continued to follow the lead of the government as they’ve done in the past, by creating largely unsuccessful job-training programs. Why don’t these programs work? In general, job-training programs affect white- and blue-collar workers differently: training often doesn’t meet the needs of employers and workers, the programs don’t help create better working conditions or enforce higher pay, and most tellingly, the programs tend to focus on “changing the worker rather than the jobs.” As a result, training programs aren’t always attractive to workers, and sometimes those who need training aren’t aware of the programs or are excluded. Further, there is a lack of consistency and continuity in federal training programs. While white-collar workers may be able to adapt more easily to automation, blue-collar workers are sometimes “trapped in a job landscape where all skills have an expiration date” and are thus hit harder by job displacement. Until federal training programs can focus on what employers and workers really need, the cycle may continue.
Breaking the Cycle
Jan 16, 2018