Value of Many Job Training Efforts Doubted : Employment: Teaching people how to look for work seems best. Classroom instruction often appears to have little worth.


Displaced workers, mothers on welfare, teen-agers with poor job prospects: Clinton Administration officials often have seemed to have a single prescription for all of them--job training.

But a raft of analytical studies over the last decade raise considerable questions about whether many job training programs actually work.

The analyses do contain one piece of good news: The sort of program that seems to work best--helping people simply learn how to look for a job--is also the cheapest to implement. On-the-job training programs also appear to work reasonably well.

But classroom training in occupational skills--taking unemployed machinists, for example, and teaching them how to work computers, often seems to accomplish little. The least worthwhile sort of training, experts now agree, are short-run programs that do not invest enough time and energy on each participant to actually impart many new skills. Unfortunately, in the past, government officials have supported many programs that offer precisely that sort of training because they are much cheaper than long-term programs.


In part because of such research--and because of the cost--the Administration’s ardor for expensive training appears to have cooled considerably over the past year.

Clinton advisers once talked broadly of a federally supported network of training centers that would offer up to two years of training or retraining to virtually any American who felt a need. Budget realities--and questions about the efficacy of training--have led to a drastic reduction in such plans.

The Administration’s re-employment proposal, unveiled March 9, would provide assistance for unemployed workers, focusing on those in danger of long-term unemployment. Most of them, however, would receive only counseling and what policy officials call job search assistance--access to computerized listings of jobs plus help in getting through the process of preparing resumes, filling out applications and interviewing with prospective employers.

Of the roughly 2 million workers each year who become permanently displaced from their jobs, only a little more than 200,000 per year would receive training that would last more than six months--the length of existing unemployment benefits. And that figure would be reached only at the end of the decade when the Administration’s plan is fully phased in.

The Administration initially would provide extensive training only to workers who have been on their current jobs for at least three years before being laid off. Eventually, that tenure requirement would drop to one year.

The idea of such a tenure requirement is to prevent workers who have never actually settled into a job from hopping into subsidized training slots. The proposal would, however, have one potentially bad side effect, noted Walter Corson, who directs research into job training programs at Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, N.J. Experience shows that younger workers are more likely to benefit from training than older ones, Corson said. But tenure requirements tend to screen out younger workers.

The government’s largest current training program, the Job Training Partnership Act, does show some positive results, according to a national study of nearly 16,000 JTPA participants begun in 1986 and released earlier this year.

Adult men who went through JTPA training earned, over the next 2 1/2 years, an average of 8% more than similar groups of men who were not trained, according to the study, which was conducted for the Labor Department by Abt Associates, a consulting firm. Adult women had more positive results--a 15% increase in earnings.


But the program did not appear to improve the earnings of out-of-school youths. Neither did it have much impact in reducing welfare use, the study found.

Men and women who enrolled in classroom-type training programs sponsored by JTPA had only small increases in their eventual earnings, which could have been the result of random chance, the study’s authors said. Because of that, “there is no firm evidence” that classroom training helped those who enrolled in it, they said.

By contrast, those who received a combination of job search assistance and on-the-job training enjoyed a considerably larger increase in their earnings. The study’s authors noted, however, that JTPA program staff members tended to send the “most employable” participants to on-the-job training programs--a tendency that could well have influenced the study’s results.