Retraining for new jobs
Flat Rock, Mich.
There I was - 40 years old, out on the street with no trade. I never thought they'd shut the place down.'' That was April 1980. Donald Leitner's job loading boxcars at a chemical company in this area came to an abupt halt as the plant closed.Skip to next paragraph
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So he joined the ranks of America's ''dislocated'' workers - people who are not likely to get their old jobs back due to basic changes in the economy. This group accounts for an estimated 1 to 8 percent of the nation's more than 9 million unemployed.
Laid-off steel and auto workers are the most frequently cited examples of dislocated workers but probably account for only one-fourth of them, says Steven Sheingold of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The rest include former textile, rubber, stone, glass, food-processing, and other workers like Mr. Leitner (who now has a new job).
No one is sure how many more dislocated workers there will be before the end of the century nor, according to employment experts, the best way to train them for new jobs.
Meanwhile, $240 million in new federal funding is being made available (plus partial matching money from state and local governments) for retraining programs.
And contracts signed last year between the United Automobile Workers (UAW) and Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation require retraining programs for laid-off auto workers. Ford has enrolled 4,000 of its permanently laid-off employees in retraining programs, many of those are being trained in community colleges. GM has enrolled about 2,800.
UAW official Richard Shoemaker says the training programs have been ''well received'' by the union's members. And, he adds, they are being carried out with Ford in a ''non-adversarial'' manner.
Businesses have a ''moral obligation'' to help retrain their laid-off workers , says Marshall Goldberg, an official with the UAW-Ford training program.
By mid-November, 117,500 auto workers were still on indefinite layoff in the United States. But this figure was down from 269,400 in January, the highest level recorded by Ward's Automotive Reports since it began tracking layoffs in 1980.
There are a number of key elements to the retraining effort, according to experts. Among them are: distinguishing between people who need retraining and people who just need help finding new jobs with skills they already have; determining which skills are in demand among employers; picking the most appropriate levels of training; and finding the jobs.
One widely praised, federally funded pilot project to retrain laid-off workers and help them find new jobs is the Downriver Community Conference, located in nearby Southgate. DCC staff members helped Donald Leitner get training and find a new job as the operator of a computer-run milling machine in a small firm here.
''I like it; it's a good job,'' he said recently, standing near a milling machine in the brightly lit work area. Six months after he lost his loading job, he enrolled at a community college's six-month intensive retraining course. Two weeks after the course ended, he landed his current job.
He earns more than $7 an hour, slightly less than on his old job. But with unemployment still relatively high, he is glad to have the work. He credits DCC for helping him when he needed help.
But there is little solid evidence that DCC or other such retraining programs are accomplishing more than what laid-off workers can do themselves.
A recent evaluation of DCC by Abt Associates (which has not yet been released by the US Department of Labor) shows findings ''not as clear'' as the positive results from an earlier Abt study, says Department of Labor economist Patrick O'Keefe.
The earlier study showed DCC placed retrained workers at a rate 12 to 22 percent higher than workers who had not used the program's services. Abt researcher Jane Kulik says the latest study ran into technical problems and that a broader study is needed to show whether or not the now-expanded program is getting good results.