Several vendors of CAD software have decided to do something about the high level of unemployment in this country. They have offered training in their software free of charge to anyone who has been downsized out of a job. My hat is off to these companies.

It’s good to see private employers like these take on a role in job training simply because government-training programs seem to be so abysmally bad. Evidence comes from the General Accounting Office, which says that federal employment and training programs cost $18 billion last year. There are 47 different programs in existence, says the GAO. And no one seems to know whether people who got federal help with training were able to get jobs as a result. Even worse, says the GAO, many of these 47 programs overlap and duplicate services offered in other programs.

Government training programs that target “green” jobs haven’t done any better. Evidence comes from a recent report by the Labor Dept. Office of Inspector General that looked at $500 million from the recent stimulus program directed toward “green-jobs” training. Some $9.9 million went toward administrative overhead. Another $48.9 million went for “labor market information” (basically, doing surveys), and another $5.8 million to develop “capacity” by hiring staff and buying equipment. That’s $64.6 million spent just on administration, without training one person.

So the administrators in charge of the program made out quite well. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for those receiving the training. Only 53,000 people have been trained in the two years since the program began, and only 8,035 have found jobs. Just 1,033 were still in their “green” job six months after they started. Estimates are that the cost of each green job is $157,000.

For comparison, consider my local community college. It spent $300 million last year to educate somewhere over 30,000 students. That puts the cost per student at about $10,000. Interestingly, that cost/student figure is in the same ballpark as federal “green-job” efforts. But the outcomes are likely far different. The college doesn’t keep employment statistics, but most of its students go into fields where there is hiring — such as nursing, health, and industrial technology — or continue to four-year schools.

Dept. of Labor officials complain that the crummy statistics for their “green-jobs” program are early results and that the track record is improving. But history shows that government-training programs usually fall on their faces. Take, for example, one called the Job Training Partnership Act. The Labor Dept.’s Inspector General looked at it in 1993 and discovered that young males receiving its “training” had 10% lower earnings than a control group. Moreover, trainees were twice as likely to rely on food stamps after their involvement in the program.

That’s why kudos should go to private companies that take the initiative and offer free training on their products. They don’t have to do surveys to know what to teach, and they are likely to produce far more positive results than bloated government job-training programs.

— Leland Teschler, Editor

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.