Finally, a relevant approach to job training

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Somewhat lost amid the furor over President Trump puckering up to Vladimir Putin was the signing of an executive order on workforce development. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a long overdue effort to prepare more people for jobs in the modern, technology-driven economy.

It’s long overdue because it involves a public-private partnership to provide apprenticeships, education, and training, and to better match workers with today’s opportunities. As noted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, we’ve been using 20th century tools to fix 21st century challenges, and also we’ve been slow to recognize that nobody knows the skills needed to fill open jobs better than private-sector employers.

There are a lot of open jobs in this economy — more job openings, in fact, than there are workers to fill them. In addition, more people are leaving their jobs for better-paying opportunities, and the labor force participation rate is showing improvement. With this many job openings, increasing mobility, and more people coming off the sidelines, workforce development has never been more important.

Yet job-training programs, especially at the federal level, have proven to be rather ineffective, and our education system still has some work to do in helping people adjust to the changing economy. Localizing our job-training efforts has shown more promise in developing the right skills, especially when companies partner with local schools to match students with the skills they need for high-demand jobs.

In Wisconsin, exhibit A is the way Gateway Technical College in Kenosha is working with Foxconn to develop a special curriculum to help fill the 13,000-plus jobs that the company plans to bring to Wisconsin. President Trump’s executive order boosts resources for workforce development in high-growth fields, and with nearly one in five workers holding a job that didn’t exist 30 years ago, most of them in technology, it’s time for greater emphasis on skills training.

With any luck, there will be a truce in Trump’s trade wars before they sink an otherwise robust economy. If that happens, there is no telling how strong the economy will get and how much opportunity will be created for upward mobility. More than 52 million Americans live in economically distressed communities. We can no longer leave them out of sight, out of mind.

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