Trump Kicks Off Initiative To Retrain American Workers: Here Are The Factors

Joanne Butler | Former Staffer, House Ways and Means Committee

This week, President Trump kicked off an initiative to help retrain American workers. The initiative includes a group of business leaders and federal officials to guide the effort. The results will tell us if the initiative is successful.

There are many factors, however, involved in retraining, such as getting the workers to the workplace.

Think about where people work in your local area. If you’re in the suburbs, chances are sprawling office parks or large warehouse centers are the norm. And you need a car to get to work.

If the would-be worker can’t afford a car, and the workplace isn’t served by public transit, then this is a problem that retraining won’t solve.

In Wilmington, Delaware, there’s a public bus line that runs from the city center to the Amazon warehouse, located south of the city. The bus schedule is timed to meet Amazon’s shift schedule.

Wilmington’s workers, however, lack a bus service to the office parks and medical centers in nearby Pennsylvania.

The importance of transportation to employment cannot be overlooked. Mayors, county executives and governors need to do a critical review of their transit routes, with a view to transporting people from low-income areas (usually in cities) to workplaces.

Where jobs are in one state, with workers living just over the state line, there needs to be inter-state cooperation regarding transit.

For people on the lower side of the income scale, it shouldn’t be necessary to own a car to be employed. A retrained worker can still end up on the couch if he or she can’t get to the workplace.

Now, let’s look at the role charter schools can play in training and retraining workers.

When I read about a firm complaining about a lack of trained workers, I get a bit angry. Instead of complaining, these firms should get in the training game.

Again, in Wilmington, a group of engineers and scientists were concerned about the lack of high-level STEM studies in the public high schools. They convinced the area’s major employers to form a consortium — and persuaded the governor to start a charter high school. The Wilmington Charter School began in 1996 and has been a huge success. It also has a 40-percent minority enrollment.

If employers in a particular county or city need trained workers, they, like their counterparts in Wilmington, can form a consortium and start a charter school that’s geared to their needs. If the employer is located in a state where charters aren’t welcome, then let the lobbying begin!

What about retraining workers? Charter schools are public institutions and can offer night or weekend classes for adults needing new skills or seeking a career in another sector.

Currently, community colleges provide much of the traditional job training and retraining services, but using charter school facilities opens up more opportunities for job seekers.

Lastly, on the topic of vocational education, the dirty little secret is that back in the days of segregation, vocational education was used to keep black students out of the white students’ classrooms.

The days of segregation are long gone, but a whiff of the bad times remains.

In my opinion, the only way to overcome this is to ensure the maximum amount of graduates obtain career-path jobs within six months after graduation.

One major hurdle involves eliminating beauty school courses, which attract female students. My visits to beauty school classrooms inevitably have giggling girls rolling up doll hair on adult-sized doll heads.

But the gigglers don’t realize they will need to spend 3,000 hours as minimum-wage apprentices in a salon and to pass an exam before they can cut hair professionally. (These are the state requirements in Delaware; other states have similar requirements.) As a work-year is about 2,000 hours, it could be eighteen months (at least) before the apprentice can sit for the examination.

Due to the low pay during a long apprenticeship, I think vocational schools ought to get out of the beauty school business. Private sector beauty schools abound; there’s no need for taxpayers to fund public beauty schools.

There’s a gender issue, too. Eliminate the beauty schools, and what will female vocational high school students do? Some might be brave and take HVAC or welding courses, but what about the others?

Working in the health insurance field is one possibility. As health insurance becomes increasingly complex, students trained in caseload management (with input and support from local major health insurance providers) will be in demand.

Another is a two-plus-two idea to have vocational students take introductory nursing courses in their last two years in high school, with graduates fast-tracked to an RN diploma by their community college (in two years or less). In our aging society, the current demand for nurses is strong and will be in the future.

Computer coding training is another option — and there are many others.

President Trump is right to be concerned about training workers. Getting workers to the workplace should be on the agenda, as well as maximizing the use of public, charter and vocational schools — to have their curricula targeted to the needs of businesses.

It can be done if the will is there to do it.

Joanne Butler, graduate of the Kennedy School at Harvard, was a professional staff member (R) at the House Ways and Means Committee and served in President George W. Bush’s administration.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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