Federal Support for Job Training Programs


On April 4, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing, Examining Federal Support for Job Training Programs. Witnesses included University of Maryland School of Public Policy Professor and Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Douglas J. Besharov, Urban Institute Fellow Dr. Demetra Smith Nightingale, and Markle Foundation CEO and President Zoe Baird.

Bi-Partisanship on Capitol Hill?

What may have been most striking about the hearing was the comity members exhibited throughout, the positive nature of member statements and questions, and the balanced and thoughtful perspectives that were offered by the panelists. It appeared that the committee went out of its way to invite speakers who would paint an accurate, not politicized view of job training programs.  During their brief presentations, speakers addressed a range of topics that reflected overall support for the program.

Testimony on Job Training

Douglas Besherov noted that the American workforce is no longer the best trained workforce in the world. That needs to change, he said, and added that the current job training system has been part of the solution. He spoke of a job training center he visited in which practical nurses were trained to become registered nurses, and added that the program was so well done that the salaries of the women who became registered nurses increased almost immediately by $15,000.

Zoe Bird felt that American job centers were a significant strength of the workforce system, providing workers and employers with access to one another. She did note, however, that her experience in Colorado led her to believe that coaches could be more helpful if they had access to more data, resources, and digital training. Once the Markle Foundation stepped in to develop coaches, the connection between the center and employers improved and overall success rates went up.

Dematra Nightengale praised the program for its partnership between federal, state, and local governments, noting that job training is just one of the many services that job centers offer. She went on to highlight the activities that she believes are the most successful and effective, including:

  • Training for in-demand jobs through career pathways or apprenticeship programs;
  • Counseling and staff supported services;
  • Comprehensive and integrated youth programs;
  • Training that targets low-income people because employer-based training is generally not available for them;
  • Evaluations and evidence-based assessments to determine what works best.
Questions about Job Training

Committee members asked straight forward questions about the job training system and how it can be improved. Among the questions and answers were:

  • Is the workforce development system working?
    • Yes, but some aspects could be improved.
  • Which workforce programs are working best?
    • Core services with well-trained coaches, YouthBuild, Job Corps, and youth employment programs.
  • How important are the American job centers and are they working?
    • Yes, they are working and they are very important to the success of the system, though an emphasis needs to be placed on access to digital resources and training coaches.
  • Are there innovations that the federal government can offer to make the system even better?
    • The federal government could focus on improving access to data so that employers and workers can have access to better information.
  • Should the federal government continue to play a role in workforce training? And if so, what role should it play?
    • Yes, the federal government should continue to play a role and that role can be to develop training programs that are based on skills development and not seat time.
  • What one thing could make a notable and positive difference in workforce development?
    • The overarching theme was that we need to improve access to data. Data forms the basis for evaluations and ensures that strategies are data-driven.
Fact, Not Fiction

The questions reflected a desire to understand the job training system, how it is doing, and how it can be improved – Not how it could be cut, how the federal government could get out of the job training business, and whether the programs should be devolved to the states through block grants (code for substantially cutting a program).

NARC will continue to monitor the committee and provide updates on the state of workforce programs.