Federal job training works for some. Reports say program doesn't go far enough to help unskilled poor, young

Business is lending a hand to the federal government in training the poor for jobs. So far this cooperation under the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) is showing some positive results, but also some weaknesses, according to two new nongovernment reports. Those getting the jobs under the program are happy. Such an example of JTPA's effect can be found in Vietnamese refugee Si Tien Tran, who lives in Roanoke, Va. His hands usually blackened with oil, Mr. Tran works at a manufacturing company. Half his salary for the first six months is paid by JTPA funds while he learns on the job. His boss, Robbie Bushnell, likes the arrangement: ``I win; he wins,'' he says.

In Orlando, Beverly Chandler worked for a number of years in an upholstery shop for $4.75 an hour. But she had no vacation or other benefits and was getting tired of the work. ``I wanted something better,'' she said recently.

Now, she has found it. Under a federal job-training program aimed at helping the poor move up, she was trained and hired by the Martin Marietta Company, a major defense contractor.

Ms. Chandler helps assemble the Copperhead, a laser-guided artillery shell Martin Marietta makes for the Defense Department. Sitting at an ultraclean workbench, wearing the plastic head covering and smock that are widely used to keep such electronics assembly plants dust-free, she solders tiny wires.

Recently hired as a regular worker after completing her JTPA program at the Martin Marietta plant, Ms. Chandler earns $4.92 an hour -- only slightly more than at her former job. But she has the chance to be promoted and earn considerably more, a company official says.

The two new evaluations of JTPA, the major Reagan administration job-training program, however, indicate mixed results in meeting the aim of the legislation, enacted in 1982 to train the poor for jobs. Among the shortcomings the reports indicate that the most-skilled, not the least-skilled among the poor are the ones getting the training.

Martin Marietta ``takes the best of what's available,'' says Fred Raffa, an economist at the University of Central Florida. He helped prepare one of the national reports on JTPA. Known in the job-training field as ``creaming,'' this practice of taking only the best workers was predicted by some researchers when JTPA was set up. Businesses want the best-qualified people they can get. And in some jobs, such as at the Martin Marietta plant here, a certain skill level is required.

Part of the training is in r'esum'e preparation, and those not hired by Martin Marietta are referred to the state employment service for job hunting.

Monitor interviews with researchers, business officials and others indicate the JTPA has potential to do more to train the hard-core unemployed, including youths. But a major limiting factor is the size of the program, experts point out. With current funding, it can train less than 5 percent of the nation's eligible poor.

Even with current funding, however, more can be done to train youth, says Andrew Hahn, assistant dean of the Heller Graduate School of Social Welfare at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Youth training programs could be paid under JTPA, he says, to raise the educational level of youths now considered virtually unemployable.

And more of the funds could be channeled into remedial education, vocational training, and job training for the least job-ready, says George Naglich. He is manager here of a two-county Private Industry Council, which administers the JTPA program locally.

Such councils typically are made up of a majority of business people, but also include educators, community organizers, and others. The involvement of business is seen by most analysts as one of JTPA's major assets. But Mr. Naglich says that in central Florida many large companies, including Walt Disney Productions, are not interested in JTPA. Some companies see it as involving too much federal red tape, reminding them of CETA, the federal jobs program that JTPA replaced. CETA put its major emphasis on placing people in public-service rather than private-sector jobs as JTPA does.

Smaller companies are more receptive to JTPA, says Naglich, because the program pays a portion of their employee training costs.

Tony Marty, training manager for Martin Marietta, points out that a program like JTPA ``doesn't work when the economy is not growing'' and employers are not hiring. He says high schools and colleges should work more closely with businesses to tailor their training to skills companies would like in prospective employees.

Martin Marietta's plant here hired 16 of the first 25 people it trained under JTPA, but the training was specifically tailored to the company's needs.

Nationally there are at least two problems with the current JTPA emphasis on short-term results, JTPA evaluators and others point out: Those most in need of help tend to be passed over, while people who are clearly trainable and might well find jobs on their own are chosen for JTPA programs.

And there is no provision in the act for follow-up to see how long those placed keep their jobs. Thus, although President Reagan in his recent State of the Union address spoke of the high placement rate for persons trained under JTPA, measuring the true success of the program is not possible.

But some profile of the program is provided in general terms by two reports, one by private consultants with foundation funding, the other by the National Alliance of Business (NAB).

The first recently released report, by Grinker, Walker & Associates and MDC Inc. found:

A high job-placement rate for trainees under JTPA -- 70 percent for adults, 64 percent for youths. Average training costs were found to be about $3,200 per person. (The NAB study found somewhat lower placement rates. But it notes the placement rate under CETA was only 47 percent for adults and 31 percent for youths.)

Of programs reviewed, 80 percent were making no special effort to serve those ``most in need'' of training, despite federal guidelines directing that this be done.

Average wages after placement were $4.61 an hour.

A substantial portion of the JTPA funds earmarked for youth went unused.

More than one-third of all participants were welfare recipients and half of them were placed in jobs. (A major JTPA goal is to get people off welfare.)

The NAB, which strongly backed the legislation setting up JTPA, found in its recent study that ``JTPA's impact on participants cannot yet be assessed.'' The report says the program appears to have made a good start, but also need more help for the most needy, particularly youth.

Some JTPA programs failed to take strong steps to recruit youth, especially high school dropouts. But at more than half the programs studied, officials expressed the hope to train more youth, and some were taking steps to do so. Lack of stipends during training was cited as one reason some youths dropped out of JTPA training.

Ms. Chandler and fellow JTPA-trained worker Carmen Camino suggest another change: higher stipends during training. Some trainees at Martin Marietta arrived at class hungry. Others arrived sleepy because they had night jobs until finishing training, said Chandler.

Martin Marietta trainees currently receive $2.10 an hour during JTPA-funded training.

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