During last week’s debate, President Obama noted that he wanted to spur jobs “that will create the next Apple, create the next new innovation that will sell products around the world.”
My initial response?: “Doesn’t sound like the sort of job that someone who spent two decades working the assembly line at a Jeep plant is immediately qualified for.”
I was alluding to the obvious point that not everybody can — or will — adapt to our quickly changing technological environment.
Now comes some evidence that seems to confirm my hunch. As Amy Goldstein writes in the Washington Post, job training doesn’t always work in practice:
The transition from a factory culture to college life to a new career turns out to be far more complicated than the political rhetoric hints at. Students arrive grieving lost jobs and shattered lives, panicky to regain their old wages however they can, rusty at writing and math, often having no idea even how to turn on a computer. Two-thirds do not graduate. And with or without a degree, new work at good pay has proved elusive for many.
Goldstein discovered a surprising fact — that “the laid-off people around Janesville [Wisconsin] who went to Blackhawk [Technical College] are faring worse than their laid-off neighbors who did not.” (Goldstein concedes this could be partly due to the fact that people who were able to get new jobs skipped going back to school in the first place.)
This is not to say job training can’t work. There are no doubt great stories of transformed lives. But at the macro level, things are more complex. Politicians on both sides of the aisle love to talk about job training as if it is a panacea.
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.