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Oates: Training Programs Are Helping Jobless

These are admittedly challenging times. The depth and duration of the recession have affected a great many people who have not been unemployed in decades and believed that it would never happen to them. For others, particularly African-American, Latino and Native American workers, this recession has magnified the long-term difficulty of getting full-time, family-sustaining employment.

[IMGCAP(1)]Unemployed workers gained a needed reprieve last week when the president signed an extension of unemployment benefits. Those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own and who are seeking employment with ever-increasing urgency will continue to receive this crucial support to help them put food on their family’s table while they find work.

Unemployment benefits are a lifeline for millions of people, and on the other side of that same coin are federally funded and administered training and employment programs. These programs, which are part of the Workforce Investment Act, have recently been in the news as well. And, in some cases, they are not getting a fair shake.

The vast majority of those who participate in WIA training programs gain employment within a year or less. According to state reports for program year 2008,
85 percent of individuals exiting WIA dislocated-worker training found a job within one year. Among those exiting WIA adult worker training programs, 82 percent gained employment within 12 months. Our system works hard to achieve these results, and it is encouraging to know we are helping people get back to work.

There are some naysayers who argue that few people who complete training enter the careers that they were preparing for. This is simply not true. Our most recent data show that more than half of those exiting adult and dislocated worker programs enter employment in an occupation that is related to their training.

And keep in mind that those who do not enter careers that they trained for are still, by and large, getting jobs. Individuals may indeed choose to take a job that is not directly related to training because of wages, hours or personal preference. That is their decision, and we know that the skills that they gained as a result of the training made them more employable.

Taking part in training shows potential employers that a person is serious about professional development and has the capacity to learn new skills. Furthermore, many of the classes that job seekers take — including information technology, communications and project management — have broad applications across the professional spectrum.

The bottom line is that our programs lead participants to jobs, and our numbers bear this out. There should be no confusion on this point. After all, we take the integrity of the data that we use to report on our outcomes very seriously.

Participant outcome data, such as entered employment rate, employment retention rate and earnings information, are obtained through quarterly wage records supplied by employers to the unemployment insurance system. To minimize errors and ensure this information is comprehensive and accurate, the department routinely conducts manual audits of that data.

For all workers the message is clear: Now is the time to upgrade your skills. Revamping your résumé, honing your interviewing and enrolling in classes to expand your academic and occupational tool kit will make you more competitive for jobs today and in the future. And with well-designed training programs such as those under the Workforce Investment Act, we are building both a better-prepared workforce and a stronger economy. That gives our nation a global competitive advantage, and it is an investment we should all support.

Jane Oates is the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for employment and training administration.

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