$2 Billion Might Put Americans to Work, Or It Might Not
by John F. Falcone III
In April, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited the Community College of Allegheny County, just outside of Pittsburgh, to announce the spending of a lot of cash, $600 million dollars to be exact.
This money is the final release of a total of $2 billion that was set aside in 2010 as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act; money that was earmarked for providing community colleges with funds to expand, improve, or create programs that can be completed in two years or less and are able to and prepare students for employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations.
Of the $600 million just released, $500 million is dedicated to colleges that create partnerships with regional employers and $100 million is dedicated to internship grants.
Essentially, the goal of all of this funding is to train people specifically for specific jobs that are available in the region. In other words, if there is a natural gas company in North Dakota that is having difficulty finding staff to operate drilling and fracking equipment, the community colleges in that region could collaborate with the company to create a 14 month training course which would train participants to operate the equipment. Once the course was developed, they would receive some of this funding.
The overall idea is not only to use up this funding to put people to work, but to foster an environment where these partnerships will continue even when the funding dries up, which it inevitably will.
In theory, and on paper, this all sounds wonderful. But is this really a solution to the struggling job market in America today? Let’s explore some common sense pros and cons of this job training funding.
1. Practical training is always a good thing. How many times have you heard someone complain in math class that they are never going to use what they are learning in “real life?” The good thing about the types of programs that this funding is going to is that it is highly focused and completely relevant to the job or industry which the training is for. If you enter into a welding program, it is doubtful that you and your classmates will be spending much time debating Plato or Karl Marx, you will most likely be welding.
2. Some students will be spared from wasting their time. It is not uncommon to meet fellow classmates that are returning to college to earn a second degree or somehow specify their degree because they graduated and only used that degree to flip burgers at McDonald’s. With specified job training programs, some students who may otherwise be forced to take on a broad topic like engineering because they have an interest in working on machinery can jump straight into the field without having to worry about specifying their education after completing a four year program.
3. These programs can mean a second chance for students who “picked the wrong major.” For the students who went through a four year program and realized that they don’t have an interest in it any longer, or that there are not that many job opportunities in the field, jobs training programs offer a much quicker path to employment than going back to college for another four year degree.
4. If successful, more companies may follow suit despite government funding. If this partnership between community colleges and businesses proves successful in bringing qualified employees to vacant jobs, it could entice other businesses to get involved. What company wouldn’t want pre-screened, specifically trained employees lining up to work for them?
5. This model would allow greater flexibility in program offerings at colleges. How many decades have colleges been offering majors in psychology,
sociology, biology, computer science, history, English, education, etc? Of course colleges add majors and change the course materials as fields grow and evolve, but if you compare the list of available majors at CSI today to the list from twenty years ago, most of the offerings will likely be the same. The advantage of the jobs training programs that will be established with this funding is that it will be much more fluid. If a local company fills its depleted ranks after three years of a training program being initiated, the college and switch over to another program working with another company, thus eliminating stagnant program offerings.
1. Specific training is useless if you are not good at it. If a student goes through an intensive twelve month training course on how to repair sonogram machines, but graduates at the bottom of the class, what options do they now have? No business is going to guarantee that everyone who completes a course will be hired, but that leaves the less successful students of a program with highly specified training and few options. At least with a more general bachelor’s degree your options are more varied.
2. The programs might not catch on once funding dries up. Specified job training requires specific equipment and specified instructors; all of which come at great cost to a community college. If enrollment proves to be low, or if the arrangement is not proving fruitful to the partnered businesses, what will keep these programs going once the federal funding stops? If not clearly successful, these programs may be short lived.
3. Students in United States have been programmed to think a four year degree is the answer to getting a job. This initiative to create sub-two year job training programs is commendable, but it is going to be fighting an uphill battle against the prevailing conventional wisdom of today, which is to obtain a four year bachelors degree (at minimum). Proof is currently sitting next you in class as you read this in the form of people who have changed their majors several times or have remained undeclared for the longest time. They are not even sure why they are in college, but they are convinced that they need a degree to succeed. With this being the case, convincing colleges to offer these programs may be difficult considering the demand is much higher for a standard education at the moment than it is for specific training programs.
4. What incentive do companies have to wait for recruits from job training programs? Think about it, how quickly do things happen at CSI? The dorms were in discussion for what seemed like ages, and it took years to actually get an MTA bus to travel from the front gates to 1P. One can only wonder at how long it would take to set up job training programs. Even if they were set up in community colleges in a year’s time, the time to complete the course would still have to be factored in, and we cannot forget that the companies whom will be partnered with the community colleges are for-profit organizations. If you owned a company, would you be willing to let it stay stagnant for two years or more, while you partnered with a local college to train potential employees, or would you find some other option, such as outsourcing or hiring foreigners with work visas that are already qualified?
5. The deadline is fast approaching. If a community college wants in on some of this money, they have to apply for it by July 7. That is extremely soon given the complexity of setting up an arrangement with a local industry and designing a course, which means that most of this money is going to go to colleges that either have some sort of a similar existing program, or is currently on a solid enough financial footing to react quickly to implement them.