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Friday, May 08, 2009


The retrain has left the station

I wrote a post with this title four years ago (time flies!), but with President Obama in the news talking about retraining as the solution to the unemployment problem, I take note of Barbara Ehrenreich's op-ed today which echoes what I wrote about in the post: "Retraining for what?"

Here's what I wrote four years ago, no less valid today:

I've been writing for more than a year about the folly of thinking that "retraining" is the answer to joblessness in America. The "really" high-end jobs (the example I used before was Ph.D. microbiologists) are few and far between, and hardly the type of job that someone is going to be "retrained" to do. Other technology jobs are, if anything, easier to outsource than lesser-paid jobs (tech support can be outsourced; WalMart shelf stocker or fast food worker can't be).
And, just to throw a little more water on the fire (or, to perhaps choose a better metaphor, to put another penny on the tracks of that "retrain"), let me note one of the other problems with the hope that retraining is a solution, by noting something I wrote five years ago, and let me note that the situation has gotten even worse than that described in this post:
It seems highly unlikely that "retraining" is some magic bullet that would put a serious dent in the unemployment situation in the United States. But to the extent that it might help, and provide employment for at least some people, this should give serious pause:
"San Jose State University President Joseph Crowley laid out a plan Wednesday for cutting up to $18 million from the campus budget and said he would do everything possible to protect the educational mission and avoid layoffs in the face of sharp declines in state funding.

"The state chancellor of the California State University system already has said CSU's 23 campuses will serve 20,000 fewer students than expected next year to live within its shrunken budget. Students probably will pay higher fees, and some will receive less financial aid."
So not only will the Cal State system undoubtedly (despite claims to the contrary) be laying off some of its own employees (how on earth could they justify not doing so with 20,000 fewer students?), but on top of that, they will be providing an education to 20,000 fewer students next year. As noted here last month, the only "training" most of these 20,000 people are likely to get is from their supervisor at Wal-Mart, showing them how to operate the cash register or stock the shelves.

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