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Obama Job Training Program Draws Praise, Skepticism Obama Job Training Program Draws Praise, Skepticism

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ECONOMY

Obama Job Training Program Draws Praise, Skepticism

The White House's new industry-led job training program is drawing praise from workforce experts for its emphasis on community colleges and industry partnerships, but the program is unlikely to reduce high unemployment in the short term.

The initiative -- announced Monday at a White House event -- will match private employers with community colleges across the country to develop curricula intended to put students on the path to employment. The hope is that involving companies in the training process will ensure that the skills being taught are those in demand. The Gap and McDonald's have already signed on, along with other companies.

 

"The idea here is simple," President Obama said. "We want to make it easier to connect students looking for jobs with businesses looking to hire."

Workforce experts praised the effort to involve industry as well as the focus on community colleges, but given the recent history of mixed results for job training programs, it is unlikely this initiative will be a silver bullet.

Job training has proved particularly tricky for workers who have held steady jobs but need to switch to a new industry, said Kenneth Troske, a labor economist at the University of Kentucky who in 2008 co-wrote a discouraging evaluation of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 for the Labor Department. That study found benefits for retrained workers were "small or nonexistent" in the short term when compared to a similar group of workers who didn't undergo training.

 

Determining which skills to teach has also been difficult, noted Fred Dedrick, executive director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. He said clean energy, for example, had been seen as a growth area, but that hoped-for jobs had not materialized for those training in the sector. The White House hopes its effort to match employers to students will be a way to avoid this pitfall.

Those issues aside, training programs can founder amid high unemployment. This program could have positive effects down the road, but the consensus is that it will not dispel present economic difficulties.

"This is not going to solve the fact that we need to be creating jobs for people," said Louis Soares, a workforce development expert at the Center for American Progress. "It's complementary and supportive, but I don't think anyone is claiming it will solve those issues."

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