News: CJ Exclusives

State Launches JobsNOW Training Program

Governor targets 12 careers in new worker training initiative

Gov. Beverly Perdue recently announced the launch of “12 in 6,” a worker training initiative aimed at laid-off workers and other job seekers. The name refers to 12 career paths that can be completed in less than six months, giving job seekers “a clear path to success in new, sustainable careers,” said Perdue.

This program is the first in a series of workforce development initiatives that comprise a new, broader job creation and economic development initiative called JobsNOW.

North Carolina’s 58 community colleges will receive $13.4 million in federal stimulus funds from the N.C. Department of Commerce to design and implement the program, which should be available to job seekers by the end of September.

The areas selected for this rapid training program are nursing assistant, phlebotomy, medical coding, office/clerical support, masonry/tilecutting, plumbing, carpentry, welding, food service, auto body repair, manufacturing/materials, and HVAC/industrial maintenance.

Why were those particular areas chosen? Chrissy Pearson, the governor’s spokeswoman, said “these are areas of need, and the program will help people who need retraining to quickly earn new certifications. This program shows the governor’s commitment to education and ensuring North Carolina continues to have a trained and well-educated workforce.”

“The ‘12 in 6’ program is just the beginning. It can be adapted to local needs of employers,” said Linda Weiner, vice president for engagement and strategic innovation for North Carolina Community College System.

“These programs will also come with a NC Career Readiness Certificate, which is highly regarded by employers because it verifies a worker has a basic skill level,” Weiner said, adding that “these careers are mostly technical or health care-related where the demand is still high.”

With the state’s unemployment rate at 10.8 percent, one of the highest in the nation, growing numbers of highly skilled, highly educated workers are also joining the ranks of the unemployed.

As jobs become scarcer across more sectors of the economy, workers are finding it difficult to secure comparable positions quickly. Highly skilled job seekers say it is even harder for them because employers are reluctant to hire workers they consider overqualified to fill jobs requiring less education or experience.

“Employers are looking only at candidates who are an exact match,” a Raleigh technical recruiter said.

Thus the appeal of programs to teach targeted skills. “The governor recognizes that different approaches are needed for different people, but this program will help put people to work faster as the economy starts to recover,” Pearson stressed, and she said other areas may be added later.

Money Well Spent?

Critics of government-funded jobs programs say they do not make economic sense because they “suck billions of dollars from the private sector without creating jobs or wealth,” said James Sherk, Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

“Jobs programs have only a slight positive effect on a worker’s lifetime earnings of one-half of one percent,” Sherk said, “whereas $20,000 a year spent on a college education yields an average increase in a worker’s salary of 8 to 10 percent, making that a far better return on investment in education.”

Most jobs programs train people in fields that are projected to grow over the next 10 years, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a problem, Sherk said, because “it gets tricky when the government is trying to pick occupations that will grow, and worse, the government doesn’t know what individuals are best at doing.”

There’s also little data showing how graduates of existing jobs programs in North Carolina have fared after they complete their training. “We don’t track how these graduates do in the job market. Like most colleges and universities, we use self-report surveys that have a very low response rate,” Weiner admitted.

“But you can see where the demand is. We collaborated with the N.C. Department of Commerce and the state’s 24 workforce development boards. We also talked to our professors. What we believe is that these careers will be the first to recover,” Weiner said.

Alan Weiss, a management consultant with the Summit Consulting Group in East Greenwich, R.I., agrees. “These careers are in areas that have been high-growth. They are blue collar and semi-white collar jobs, and I believe that it is money well spent because they are aimed at getting the middle class back to work,” Weiss said.

Private sector is key

The key to a recovery in the job market is a revitalized private sector, not government spending, Sherk said. What is needed are lower tax rates on corporations and individuals to encourage investment and job creation.

North Carolina lawmakers seem headed in the opposite direction. In the teeth of the recession, the state Senate just approved a budget that raises taxes by nearly $1.2 billion over the next two years. Calling the package “tax reform,” senators are offering to lower marginal tax rates on corporations and businesses and reduce the state sales tax rate. At the same, time, though, the plan would broaden the tax base by including many service businesses that have previously been exempt from the sales tax.

“It’s a money grab,” said Joseph Coletti, fiscal policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation, “sold as a way to be fairer to business. The sales tax base has been eroding as the economy becomes more service-based, and this tax proposal will bring in more revenue by taxing more businesses.” Moreover, this tax proposal would be layered on top of an automatic increase in the minimum wage taking effect in July. There’s also a proposal in the General Assembly to force small businesses to pay employees for seven sick days a year.

Critics say that even if the state’s jobs programs successfully impart new skills to unemployed North Carolinians, higher taxes and stiffer regulations may retard the recovery, so businesses won’t be able to hire those newly trained workers anyway.

Karen McMahan is a contributor to Carolina Journal.