The face of the work force is changing, and efforts to help those who are disadvantaged because of educational and economic difficulties find jobs can only become more challenging.
A national committee joined forces last year under the auspices of the secretary of labor to help formulate policy for applying the Job Training Partnership Act.The act uses government money to train and educate target populations that are considered disadvantaged and unskilled, like young high school dropouts and welfare recipients.
The result of the committee's work is "Working Capital: JTPA Investments for the '90s," a study of the program nationwide.
The first step was examining the future of the work force. The report drew some interesting - and disturbing - conclusions:
- Types of jobs and their requirements are changing irreversibly and so are the demographics of the current and potential work force. Unfortunately, they're not necessarily changing in the same ways.
- Qualified workers are growing scarce, and the chasm between the jobs available (or that will be available) and the work force is widening.
- Nationwide, we can "boast" of massive functional illiteracy (25 million), long-term dependency (about 3 million people of working age) and failure to complete high school (an incredible million youths a year).
- Resources are restricted in all social service and human development systems and the problem is compounded because no one system can accomplish significant change alone.
The committee decided that the JTPA's (and other employment and education) goals should deal both with human development and self-sufficiency for the family, and productivity for the American work force.
On first examination, it sounds like common sense. But when I stopped to really examine those findings about the shifting work force and the future, that goal started to sound pretty lofty and fairly hard to achieve.
But the study doesn't leave it at that. It lists 28 recommendations to meet those goals, then narrows it down even more tightly to focus on a few bottom-line goals. Those seven are the minimum steps that can be taken if the hope is to accomplish the most with very limited JTPA funds and other resources.
So what do we do to help those who have employment-capability disadvantages?
According to the report, emphasis must be placed first on those disadvantaged people who have real skill deficits or those who are dependent on the welfare system and need a concerted spectrum of "helps" to become independent, both economically and emotionally.
Diagnostic assessments will have to be made in-depth to find out what is really needed to overcome the disadvantages. Then, remedial programs, whether literacy or job training or a combination will have to be made available. Those programs need to be flexible enough to accommodate individual needs.
Inevitably, the subject of more funding came up. The report asks for it in terms of providing not only corrective but also preventive services, year round. The target would be young people who are at risk in school and the job market.
Measures of success should be adjusted to reflect the JTPA goal of increasing economic self-sufficiency over the long haul. In other words, don't just give people a job but provide the skills they need to increase their competency, the quality and wage of the job and "long-term retention in the labor force."
Program restraints should be relaxed, the study says, so that creativity becomes a partner in serving participants with serious barriers to employment.
Next, states and communities need to focus on training the people who actually run the program and provide the skills. That kind of technical assistance should increase the productivity of the program and enhance the outcome for participants.
Finally - and probably the most important component of an effective jobs training program - interagency cooperation should be formed. That means a partnership between human resource programs and institutions at all levels and literally anyone who plays a role in a program's effectiveness.
In other words, put partnership into the Job Training Partnership Act.
Obviously, these are recommendations. It's a report. But if the agencies that deal with JTPA take it seriously, the future for those who are economically and educationally job-market handicapped should be much brighter as the program roars into the 1990s.