Evidence Can Be Such A Downer….

Last week in Indiana, as our legislature geared up for its short session, Governor Holcomb delivered his State of the State address. One of the major emphases of that speech was about the importance of worker retraining.

Gov. Eric Holcomb used his nearly 30-minute speech Tuesday night to set some lofty goals, primarily in the area of educating and training Hoosier workers.

He identified more than a million Hoosiers who need better skills and set a goal of educating or retraining 55,000 Hoosiers over the next year who didn’t finish college or don’t have a high school diploma.

Although the Governor’s emphasis upon jobs and attention to other actual governance issues represents a welcome change from his predecessor’s obsession with imposing his version of biblical obedience on citizens of Indiana, this focus on retraining ignores an inconvenient reality: data continues to demonstrate that these programs mostly don’t work.

A recent article in the Atlantic summarized our current situation.

The article begins by noting that the problem is very real: automation has decimated manufacturing employment; estimates are that nine out of ten manufacturing jobs have been replaced by automation since 2000. Trade (mostly with China) has cost America another 2.4 million jobs. Of the 1.6 million manufacturing jobs that were lost during the 2008 recession, only 200,000 came back.

It’s true that trade and automation also create jobs, but they are jobs calling for very different skills than those being lost.

Most jobs that are available–primarily in computer technology, health care, and high-skill manufacturing– require training beyond high school. But despite what the article calls “decades of investment” in job-retraining programs, numerous studies have found them to be ineffective.

One problem, according to experts, is that job-retraining programs “remain rooted in the industrial era.” They haven’t evolved with the economy.

Workforce-development officials and labor economists describe four main trends in the job market that make the road from unemployment to retraining more treacherous now than it was even a decade ago. These trends, according to observers, have turned the government programs to support dislocated workers into relics of the past.

Not only do we live in an era where the skills needed to keep up in any job are changing at a much faster pace than before, but states have added licensing requirements to an enormous number of occupations. According to some estimates, those licensing requirements have cost the economy some 2.85 million jobs nationwide. Nearly 30 percent of American workers need a license these days; in the 1950s, only 5 percent did.

Do we really need to license interior decorators, travel agents, painters and auctioneers?

Researchers have also determined that the speed of retraining is critical–being jobless for a year or more permanently hinders a worker’s chance of new employment. (Retraining is actually most successful if it starts before a worker leaves his old job, but few people have the benefit of sufficient advance notice to make that feasible.)

Finally–and this pains me, but I recognize its accuracy–retraining typically is offered through a college or university, and most laid-off workers, especially older ones, have minimal interest in starting or returning to college. Worse, most colleges take far too long to create or update retraining programs. (As I discovered when I joined the faculty at my own university, lack of urgency may be the defining factor of higher education–followed closely by lack of flexibility. Unfortunately, speed and flexibility are critically important to retraining.)

Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is the “chicken and egg” character of the problem. As the Atlantic article concludes, workers aren’t likely to waste their time retraining simply to retrain. Unless there is a specific job at the end, they won’t bother.

As with so many of the issues we face in public administration, it’s more complicated–and daunting– than it seems.

As Chambers of Commerce endlessly reminds us, employers look to locate in places with an educated workforce. In the long term, we’d get a better return on our investment of tax dollars by increasing funding for public schools.

But this is Indiana. I won’t hold my breath.


  1. Why would we be surprised that job retraining and continuing education are such a failure in Indiana when basic public education is such a low priority? Under Republican rule education is simply seen as another opportunity to privatize, incorporate and make money off of.

  2. The solution, I believe, is employer-paid training and retraining with employment contracts including restrictions on job-hopping after the training period. I saw a model of this in Malaysia more than 30 years ago, but Hoosier employers want government to foot the bill.

    One of the pleasures of reading your column early in the morning is the absence of dribble in the comments section.

  3. The goals of automation are to eliminate the need for workers, thereby decrease overhead, and thus increase profit. If a machine replaces X number of workers, it is counter-productive to create X or X + jobs in design and creation of means to create the automation. Somewhere that overhead is borne. In the post-war years, manufacturing jobs created markets for the goods the jobs produced. We added to the problem when health insurance became an aspect of employment—added to overhead. Medicare for all is important as an aspect of infrastructure, as is education. Meanwhile, instead of promises that somehow manufacturing jobs will be brought back to the U.S., or that the process of automation will provide jobs lost in manufacturing, elected public officials need to focus on realities. Of course that is silly, because those officials will pander to the basest hopes of many voters: blame Mexico, China, Vietnam, etc. That is easier than getting people to realize our problems are much deeper and not so easily solved, especially on a golf course.

  4. Well said, now if we could get the policy makers to read this. Unfortunately does not make for a simple campaign slogan

  5. What happened to the idea that the state should educate its people (future workforce) and the industries should train their workers? Apprenticeships are gone. It is easier to train educated workers than to train uneducated workers.

  6. Mark; as Alan Watts so eloquently stated back in the 1970’s, “Man is going to computerize himself out of existence.” As I stated yesterday, progress does not always mean improvement. Has anyone else, technologically challenged as I admit to being, noticed that when we replace computers, phones, all electronic devices, there are rarely basic instructions. There are, however, almost always pages of installation instructions and technical descriptions of equipment in foreign languages. We are now expected to know how to use electronic equipment when we buy it and using these devices is becoming more and more the normal mode of information and communication .

    Morton, I agree with this statement regarding specialized jobs in many fields. “The solution, I believe, is employer-paid training and retraining with employment contracts including restrictions on job-hopping after the training period.” In every job I had, beginning at age 15,
    I had basic knowledge of whatever field I was in, but sorely lacked the necessary specific training to succeed in that particular job. Basic office skills are always required but business and government offices have different priorities, office systems and required use of their chosen computer system…of which there are now countless. These are needed specifics that cannot be found in education systems but on-the-job-training must be provided and is often lacking.

    “Gov. Eric Holcomb used his nearly 30-minute speech Tuesday night to set some lofty goals, primarily in the area of educating and training Hoosier workers.”

    Did Holcomb specify which areas of employment these workers need education and training in? As Theresa pointed out; “Under Republican rule education is simply seen as another opportunity to privatize, incorporate and make money off of.”

    As always; it gets back to follow the money!

  7. Depending on our state government to offer training for a new workforce is ridiculous. I am a teacher and I teach in a public school on the east side of Indianapolis. Those of you that have lived in Indianapolis for any length of time can drive through neighborhoods on the east side and you can see the result of our state and city political leaders decisions over the years. The city and the state have changed drastically from the era when the east side was a sea of neat little houses that sat on paved streets, with parks and shopping nearby; all close to the factories and jobs that lined Shadeland Avenue. Drive through there now ( I suggest the area between 42nd and 38th near Post Road) and you will see a neighborhood in decline. This area offers a snapshot of what short-sighted and bad public policies can do.

    Our current political leaders have created an education landscape that encourages segregation, limited resouces for public schools and forces the public to support religion through voucers. Our political and business leaders have decided that public schools are supposed to provde this training and continually insert their hand into making bad educational policy that is underfunded, poorly planned and rarely works. Our lastest version of a clusterf**k is the “new” graduations requirements. This article by the IndyStar explains the problem perfectly. No one making policy decisions listens to those that have to implement the policy and another initiative fails to get off the ground or goes up in flames after costing the taxpayers millions. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2018/01/12/high-school-principals-new-graduation-requirements-could-hurt-kids/1023968001/

    Public schools like our high schools and Ivy Tech will be burdened with some poorly funded and planned retraining program. This version of retraining will sputter, not get off the ground and then those in the statehouse will point their fingers at public schools and teachers to direct the blame. All you have to do is look at the east side of Indy to see how well these policy makers do their job.

  8. What about vocational high schools? They don’t seem to exist any longer, but they seem to work in Germany. So graduates can see the opportunities available. And what about post-high-school venues such as Lincoln Tech (auto repair)? They can keep up with the changes in engine design, so graduates can find a job.

  9. I am beyond tired of hearing government officials in Indianapolis talk about the thousands of jobs that go unfilled because employers cannot find employees trained to fill those jobs.

    Those jobs that they speak of are manufacturing jobs that require very specific skills and those employers want potential employees or the taxpayers to foot the bill for the necessary training.

    The MAIN issue with filling those jobs is that they are mostly $12 per hour jobs. Those business owners either need to create apprentice training at their expense or bring their wages up to reasonable amounts to expect trained workers.

    This is a matter of business owners refusing to take a risk via obtaining loans to grow their businesses. Instead, they want everyone else to take the risks to support their specialized manufacturing needs. They demand corporate welfare when it involves benefiting themselves.

  10. Part of the problem with training is that we often train people for jobs they don’t really want to do. We tend to be good at those things we like doing. How about following the example of our military and giving MOS tests to the newly unemployed. Then we can provide training for occupations they seem to have a knack for.

  11. “Socialize the costs; privatize the profits.”

    For decades, worker productivity has increased at a steady upward pace. Who captured all this productivity?

    It wasn’t the worker.

    It was the capitalists – corporations, CEOs, and shareholders.

    Why didn’t corporations take those additional profits and reinvest in their workforce?

    Greed. They’ve used our work to benefit their stock price. Period.

    Now they have a problem and want the government to fix it. What a bunch of welfare queens who are dependent upon the government.

    Morton Marcus should look at the MadJax project in Muncie, Indiana. It would be a classic case of any college study or an article. Corruption, public sector interfering in the private sector. Subsidizing a craft brewery to retain them as tenant giving them a competitive advantage over other local breweries. Thomas Bracken, a board trustee at Ball State University, actually sued the City of Muncie. I believe a Noblesville judge is hearing the case and I’ve read Bracken’s closing arguments – supports everything I wrote about. https://www.muncievoice.com/20147/guardian-brewery-given-460k-by-taxpayers/

    “Socialize the costs; privatize the profits.”

    We have been experiencing class warfare for decades. Indiana is one of the worst states in the union for workers, yet employers whine about not finding qualified workers.

    “You reap what you sow.”

    “Cause and effect.”

  12. Corporations keep putting the cost of training to specific skills on the taxpayers/employees rather on their own shoulders. Not only does the employee need specific skills, they have to go into debt to pay for the training, then learn to live on the meager hourly wage paid for those specialized skills. Likely within a few years, the skill will be obsolete, eliminated by automation or sent offshore to cheaper labor markets.
    Instead of investing in their productive employees, corporations have continued to exploit them unmercifully. The profits of their investments go to passive shareholders and comparatively overpaid administrators/executives. The trends of buyouts and acquisitions into bigger and fewer corporations means that future employment will be largely indenture to more and more impersonal and dissociated corporate management far removed and virtually invisible to the employees. Cogs in the wheels of commerce with fewer and fewer rungs of opportunity to upward mobility are a regression not progress.

  13. An often overlooked dystopian novel is Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano.” It is a remarkably prophetic view of our immediate future when huge factories can be run by two or three people. Managers and engineers live happily on one side of the river – the one percent. Everyone else lives on the other side and about all they have available to them is road repair. It was Vonnegut’ s first novel, published in 1952.

  14. “Job Retraining” = Taking back the jobs we have assigned to the poor and huddled masses that we let in from Asia and Africa and elsewhere.., yeah I can see that… NOT. My younger Son is one of the now only 9500 Professional (Journeyman) Linemen in the United States. He makes over 100K a year – they cannot find YOUNG people who are willing to CLIMB POLES and WORK!.. I blame technology – the unknown hidden addiction of being ‘Coddled into comfort’ – we have become a sort of ‘welfare state’ that is brought on by the ‘social’ connections that keep us separate enough to keep our eyes on the phone but not speak directly with those standing RIGHT NEXT TO US… wow – this nation is screwed from the INSIDE!

  15. Right on, Manuel! Especially your comment bout finding you people willing to WORK…even on flat ground.

    Here is an educator’s experience with the retraining effort in Anderson, Indiana, where retraining has been and still is badly needed. I met her while buying a house. She was my realtor. In a former life, she was a teacher and an administrator. Her most recent employment was with the state, and her task was to create and administer a program in Anderson of retraining for displaced automotive workers, a noble mission.

    She spent two years developing curricula, finding reasonable physical accommodations, convincing other education professionals to get involved, and coordinating with Indiana industries. But her biggest challenge was to find funding, which she accomplished. Grants from industry, state and federal government arrived with only a few strings attached. So, encouraging.


    When classes opened for business, no one showed. She shared with me the lesson she took from her experience:

    Almost all auto workers are auto workers because they have hated learning from the beginning, like first grade. They detest learning, unless learning is a mere by-product of thoughtless labor, and no amount of desperate need for training is enough to overcome that gut-felt attitude.

    Long run, educators need to find the cause of that rejection of learning and create a way to intervene while–if not before– millions of potential workers are undergoing their first experience with formal learning.

  17. Voters Wake up! 2018 is the year, in November when your vote is needed more than ever to protect the systems that have been such boons to our society.
    The GOP is chipping away at what they call “entitlements”. Do you agree that the requirements to “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” were among the reasons for establishing our constitutional government?
    Do you think that “promote the general welfare” means to dole out tax breaks to shore up billionaire income while children are underfed or when healthcare is unaffordable?

  18. I can relate to Larry’s story.

    When I was living in southern Illinois I tutored at an auto repair training school set up by a local wealthy man who wanted to provide this learning opportunity to the young men in the area. The students were all either out of high school and unemployable or still in high school but not doing well in their last year.

    Everything in the facility was state of the art. The auto repair teaching project was set up so that the students learned via lessons on computers where the reading level was at the 12th grade. But they were all failing. This is where I came in. Another former teacher and I tested these students and found that none could read at a level over the fourth grade. Some were at first grade level. And while tutoring was offered to them only three out of over a dozen showed up for these classes and none of them stuck with it. The school closed for financial reasons, but it was already failing because the students did not want to do the work necessary to learn. It was heartbreaking for all.

  19. Nancy and Todd – Your commentaries are excellent and to the point. I have long been in favor of vocational as well as academic education, especially with the specter of automation looming over our economic world of production and distribution. Germany and Sweden are good examples of how economies can prosper and enjoy huge trade profits with their “smart manufacturing” resulting from their emphasis on vocational education. In this connection, I recall vividly (and bitterly) reading about how business circles were demanding that President Obama allow visas for Chinese tradesmen to come to America as plumbers, welders etc., citing a shortage of help in such areas. I was reading at the time how American welders were turning down jobs that paid $50 an hour and now hear that some expert welders are making $100 an hour (which beats the hourly rate of those holding history and English degrees). I recall thinking that it wasn’t bad enough that our jobs were being effectively exported to China by American multinational corporations but now those same multinationals were demanding that aliens take our jobs here as well! Such policies on visas, had they been implemented, along with onrushing automation of jobs formerly thought to be immune to robotry and with our political failure to provide for vocational education due, inter alia, to our tax-cutting mania for, among others, multinational corporations, would have enriched Wall Street while bankrupting ordinary Americans at a speedier pace and, of course, reducing aggregate demand, the sole arbiter of economic growth.

    As to who pays for vocational education, reeducation and the like, I note that no commentator to Sheila’s blog yet today has mentioned the effect of right to work union-busting laws on our economy. When craft and other unions were in vogue, we had apprentice programs paid for and run by unions with excellent results in turning out thousands of journeyman electricians, plumbers etc., but Republicans decided to destroy unions with their right to starve legislation, resulting in (among other horrors) the shortage of such expert help which not only hurt aspiring vocational workers but the economy as well. Now the chickens are coming home to roost as those who favored such laws are complaining that they don’t have enough educated workers.

    I am tempted to respond to such thoughtless legislation’s effects on greedy employers as “Ha! That’ll teach you to pass laws to inflate your bottom lines while putting it to your workforce!” but for its effects on all of us. We are not responding policy-wise to the realities of internationalization of trade and onrushing automation and are falling behind China and even emerging economies with their bullet trains, superior infrastructure, environmental rules, economic outreach to the Third World etc.,for which we are paying and will pay a steep price for our failure to keep up with the world as our attention is rather devoted to the man-child in the Oval Office, tax cuts, racism, who lied, porn queen payoffs and other such diversionary trivia. Government, anybody?

  20. First of all, vocational departments in public schools are minimized due to cost of equipment and cost of liability insurance rates. Second, training workers to build robots means sending them to Asia, or Europe to work, because American automation is too expensive for the capitalists. Next, what about instituting a kind of Marshall plan for our cities? Train the locals in construction skills to rebuild their own neighborhoods, thus giving them pride of their own work.

    Grover Norquist will go down in history as one of the people most responsible for our demise as a society. His “starve the beast” mentality causes us to be a poor country. He and his acolytes revel in the collapse of our public education system. Republicans, of course, follow that schema to satisfy their donors. This is yet another reason why all elections should be publicly funded.

    Companies and corporations used to have apprenticeship programs, but the apprentice was required to work for that company for a period of time or pay for the program. Clinton’s workfare program was the start of a good idea. Hunger is a great motivator to find work, so training was followed by a work requirement. Naturally, since it was something from a Democratic administration, the Bush-ites cancelled it out of hand.

    Overall, investing in our people via education and health care is more important than building another goddamned aircraft carrier.

  21. South Carolina’s short-term strategy for addressing these problems seems to be working. We are able to attract (mainly) foreign business into the state through enormous tax incentives ($900 million to Boeing), by guaranteeing that businesses will never have to pay a living wage, and by promising to mobilize the national guard if any group of workers mentions the forbidden word “union”. Yes, it’s a bit draconian, but South Carolina has had centuries of practice in draconian management strategies. It’s what we’re best at.

    As automation expands, there will be little incentive for Michelin, Volvo, BMW, etc., to remain here. But the SC view is that that is a worker problem, not a state problem. For now unemployment is low, education is deplorable but cheap, roads are crumbling, corruption in the legislature is rampant, nuclear energy failures are a burden on every taxpayer, and the governor feels good about his chances in the next election.

    If you are good at thumping your Bible and you value football beyond all other human endeavors and you are white, South Carolina may be the nirvana you seek.

  22. Gosh, Terry, It sounds like South Carolina is the place for Grover Norquist and all true-believing Republicans. What’s holding them back from storming your state?

  23. JD, Gerald and Vernon offer all of the insights that I wanted to mention in my comment but they said it better than I would have. Union busting has made our country a shithole and now we have a President and governors all over the country snickering about “the others” when they need to put up a huge mirror instead. This is what we’ve become.

  24. When I was growing up I was pretty sure that no generation would beat my grandparents, the immigrant ones, and their peers in terms of adapting to change. I to this day admire their adaptation to completely different worlds.

    But the pace of change continued to increase as, I learned later, it always does.

    We still don’t have to like change. We still dream of school, marriage, kids, a career with little trauma making just short of adequate money, and retirement and grouse at life falling short because the environment that we live in changes and we don’t want to.

    I get it.

    As I have watched my kids navigating the river that I was never on I see clearly that their lives and mine are much alike save one thing. Expectations. I expected what I got. They do too but their and my reality are so much different.

    I literally can’t imagine what my grandchildren will face. They can’t either but they will.

    Life is hard and there’s no avoiding that. Life is work. Life is surprises. Life is the great and awful times and you never know what’s in the next spoonful.

    A role of government is the pursuit of happiness. They can help many and should always strive to. They can’t help all.

    Teach resilience at every opportunity.

  25. As usual, Sheila Kennedy encourages civil discourse from critical thinking respondents who offer timely thought provoking issues. I support global trade. It has always been good for our economy. However, if I see a product certified ‘Made in the USA’ sitting on the shelf competing with a similar product made overseas, I am willing to pay 15% more to support manufacturing jobs in the USA. What goes round comes round. I drive a Japanese brand car assembled right here in Indiana. What goes round comes round. I support liberal arts education, but it may not be for everybody. I support vocational arts education both at secondary and higher education levels with direct participation of industry to project areas of potential job growth and related requirements. I am willing to support that with my taxes. However, when we make a huge change in tax policy returning relief to corporations and employers on the pretense of bringing more jobs back to America, then their should be accountability built in. Demonstrate expansion of jobs (not just new jobs replacing workforce reductions), investment in job training , restoring outsourced jobs overseas to the homeland … you keep the tax relief awarded over time. Failing that, there should have been a claw back provision with proceeds to underwrite job training that has proven effective. What goes round comes round.

  26. AgingLGrl – it is unfortunate that you live in AZ instead of N IN. We think a lot alike and I am sure could enjoy a daily coffee together while solving the world’s ( or our country’s or state’s) problems.

  27. Morton Marcus said it perfectly.

    Public schools have had excellent vocational ed. programs, but funds have been stalled dramatically ever since Geo. W. Bush became President. Voc. Ed. is a shell of its former self.

    Construction trades unions have the best apprenticeship programs in the state funded by union dues which Mitch Daniels and our legislature limited with “right-to-work” legislation. Stronger unions provides better trained workers. Yet our state continues to starve unions and public education. That’s a strange way to gain more skilled workers.

  28. Nancy Pappas – Starving is not so strange when you consider the overriding mindset of the super majority, which is to save funds that go to the public good for distribution to their rich donors. GRRR! GES

  29. Bill: Thanks for coming out of retirement to become actively involved with the subject matter in Sheila’s post today. Please share an experience or two.

  30. Nancy: I would love to have a coffee or stiff drink with you and solve the world/state/local problems. I will never live in N IN again, it’s too cold for me. You must have a strong constitution against the cold.

    And I’m not as good a communicator as those I mentioned above.
    Thank you for your kind words.

  31. There are many things that South Carolina does not do well, but job training is one where we excel. Back in the 60s when Fritz Hollings was Governor, he established Special Schools through a network of technical schools (now mostly 4-year universities) Industries and educators worked jointly on the curriculum needed for their new hires. Only those who had completed the coursework were eligible to interview for the jobs.

    Thus, when the economic development people in our state wanted to lure BMW, Michelin, Boeing, Volvo, Mercedes, etc., part of the incentive was a trained workforce. Programs in the Charleston area were at Trident Technical University and some training was sent to rural areas to create greater access. Trident also operates the best nursing programs in the area. Hospitals take their medical assistants and lab techs first because they have far more skills than those in the for-profit schools. Trident stepped in to meet the needs of the hospitality groups as Charleston became a major tourist and foodie location.

    Other special schools are at Greenville Tech and most larger cities in SC. I am most familiar with Trident and its President Mary Thornley, who is the best educator in the state. Other states would do well the study the evolution of Fritz’s Special Schools.

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