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The Best Job Training Is On-the-Job Training

The good news is that President Trump and Republicans are eager to impose a work requirement for Medicaid and other means-tested welfare benefits. The bad news is they seem willing to allow job-training programs as a substitute for the work requirement. They need to understand that the only effective job training is on-the-job training. 

Most of us—at least those of us who started our work careers as low-paid, unskilled teenagers—had no training for our first jobs. Employers hired us and someone took a few hours or days to show us what and how to do our new job. Then we were on our own. 

Many households receiving welfare benefits have at least one worker—44 percent of those households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits (SNAP), according to a National Public Radio report

But most of those who don’t work, and especially those who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time, will have lost whatever skills they may have had. In other words, they are starting pretty much from scratch. Employers can and do train them for those low-skilled, entry-level jobs. 

The bigger problem is that those who want welfare benefits but don’t want to work for them often use the job-training option as a ruse to avoid working. And their job-training attendance and performance is often underwhelming. That’s one lesson the American Institute for Full Employment learned in its Oregon-based welfare reform pilot project back in the 1990s. 

And it’s not any better when the government runs the job-training program. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General released a paper last March assessing the Job Corps’ performance in doing its core mission: job training. According to the paper

Job Corps could not demonstrate the extent to which its training programs helped participants enter meaningful jobs appropriate to their training. This occurred because Job Corps’ contractors did not adhere to program policy regarding the collection of information related to participants’ prior employment history upon entry into the program, and did not provide participants with effective transition services. … 

Participants either found jobs through their own efforts or without clearly documented contractor assistance. For PYs [program years] 2010 and 2011, Job Corps paid millions of dollars to transition services contractors, but we found insufficient evidence demonstrating they had provided the services required by their contracts. 

No doubt some job-training programs do a better job than others, and some people benefit from those efforts. In addition, some welfare recipients face serious challenges, including drug abuse, physical abuse or mental health issues. They do need help. 

But if Republicans really want their “workfare” program to be effective, scale back the job training provisions. The best job training is on the job.