How Career Change Programs Work

By: John Perritano

Do job retraining programs work?

Israel Valle was out of work. Before the hammer came down on the U.S. economy, Valle was making $18 an hour as an executive assistant in New York's fashion industry but then he found himself unemployed [source: Goodman].

With no job prospects in sight, Valle did what millions of other displaced workers do -- he upgraded his skills at a government-financed job training center. But the training, Valle said, was fruitless. For all his hard work, he still couldn't find a job [source: Goodman].


Many experts say job training programs don't cure unemployment. Between 2003 and 2005, when the economy was humming, the U.S. Labor Department conducted a study tracking 160,000 laid-off workers in 12 states. The department concluded that the gains from workers enrolling in job training programs were "small or nonexistent" [source: Goodman].

The problem, many suspect, is that most job training programs are outdated and irrelevant. When Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act in 1998, teaching workers computer skills and how to write resumes were seemingly enough to put them back into the workforce. The programs were designed for a quick turnaround economy.

Things quickly changed as the economy underwent a seismic shift. The recession decimated entire industries. Highly skilled workers with decades of experience were tossed out of their jobs. As a result, things got a lot tougher for the displaced worker. Some experts argue job training programs did not change with the economy shifted.

When President Obama signed the stimulus package in 2009, the government allocated $1.4 billion for job retraining. Those programs, critics charge, have failed to provide new careers for laid-off workers. As a result, there are more people looking for work then there are job openings. In addition, most job training programs only last a few weeks, providing displaced workers with general skills, not new and specialized training.

Others say the money was well spent. According to the U.S. Labor Department, 85 percent of laid-off workers who participated in job training programs in 2007 and 2008 found jobs within a year. Those who run the programs say many jobs, especially in health care and technology, continue to be vacant because they are waiting for skilled workers [source: Goodman].

Others argue that demand for products and services will increase as the economy gets stronger. When that happens, the newly trained workforce will be better equipped to handle these tasks. Why is that? Although unemployment is still high, there will be more qualified, and in some cases, overqualified candidates, to take the jobs that open up [source: Kiviat].

Just as important, job training gives displaced workers a psychological boost. Many times the unemployed become depressed, unmotivated and pessimistic about their future. However, the programs help people overcome their depression as they do something productive with their time instead of sitting home and brooding. Moreover, the programs create work for laid-off teachers and instructors [source: Kiviat].