Friday, November 7, 2014

Some thoughts on Gene Callahan and Francis Fukuyama on job training programs

Gene wanders into some education and training program and federal/local governance tensions stuff in a recent post, and as I'm interested in both issues I thought I'd comment and disagree a little. He writes:
"In a discussion of how the American system of checks-and-balances and federalism produces wildly inefficient legislation, Fukuyama notes that: "Congress created fifty-one separate programs for worker retraining, and eighty-two projects to improve teacher quality." (p. 497)

I have been making this point even before reading this latest work of Fukuyama's. But he has an interesting perspective on why this occurs.


My own preference would be for worker-retraining and teacher-improvement programs to be implemented at a much more local level (the importance of local knowledge: see Hayek, as well as Catholic social thought on subsidiarity). The federal government should intervene in these issues only to the extent that it redistributes some tax revenues from the richer to the poorest states, to allow the poorer states the resources to implement these goals. But if these things are going to be handled at the federal level, I would much prefer Congress authorized a single agency to deal with each, and empowered that agency to do so.

Fukuyama contends that these legislative Rube Goldberg devices we create arise primarily from the way our system of checks-and-balances and federalism have worked out in practice: multiple branches, agencies, and levels of government are involved with almost every political issue in the United States. Rather than working to limit government, as the founders had intended, this multiplicity of authorities has served to create a byzantine government."
I think federal job training reflect these priorities more than Gene might expect, and the multiplicity of programs is not as pernicious as you might think either (I can't speak for programs to improve teacher quality). There are always things to disagree with, and this has been a process of improvement over time as well, but both of those are only natural.

First, much of the job training that goes on is in fact locally designed and controlled. This happens for at least two reasons. First, the "federal job training programs" we talk about are often better thought of as funding streams rather than programs per se. They'll often be targeted to specific populations (workers displaced by imports, TANF recipients, youth, the unemployed, etc.) and sometimes there may even be restrictions on the spending that goes on (you'll often see requirements that the money be spent on capacity building for the trainer but not tuition, for example). But these are generally existing or newly started training programs at community colleges or other workforce development organizations that are designed locally to meet local needs that then compete for appropriate funding streams from the federal government.

The other major mechanism for local design and control of training programs is good old fashioned devolution. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the new Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA), which provides a lot of the funding for federal job training are both administered by local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), which are composed of employers, educators, and other local stakeholders. WIA/WIOA and many other federal job training efforts have also been pushing sectoral partnerships where employers in important local industry clusters partner with education and training providers to design curricula and programs.

Certainly some training programs are structured at a higher level. I imagine Job Corps is one such program (although I'm not as familiar with its design). But many aren't either by virtue of the funding stream or the structure of the program itself. And the trend is certainly in the direction of decentralization of program design.

The other element of Gene's post is that there are so many different training programs. I think this is a little odd, given his emphasis on local knowledge and local programs. The reason why we have a lot of programs is that workers in different situations have very different needs. Disadvantaged youth need very different training and support services than experienced workers displaced by import competition. I am at a conference right now and I just spoke with a colleague who wants to include me on a proposal to evaluate a training program for older workers, who are going to have different needs and obstacles as well. Needs also vary by industry. Registered apprenticeships are heavily concentrated in construction and to a certain extent manufacturing because those training models work in those fields in a way that might be more difficult for other occupations or industries. The labor market is remarkably diverse, and if you are going to get into the business of job training, as the federal government has, you probably don't want a one-size-fits-all policy. This can lead to headaches too of course, but if we're concerned about Hayek and local knowledge (and if we leave aside Hayek-style libertarianism for a second), there are good reasons to have the sort of system we have.

1 comment:

  1. I stop in and read some of your stuff occasionally but never seem to comment. Just wanted to say, you nailed this one. Excellent commentary. I couldn't agree more.

    A few comments though. First, the nitpick. WIOA is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Congress dropped the word Investment and replaced it with Innovation. Second, while Job Corps is a national program, it is subcontracted out almost exclusively. As a result, while it's a federally funded program operated at a national-level, it is run by private organizations and so in many ways is not centrally controlled at all. That is pretty much the case for all of the federally run programs, such as NFJP, SCSEP, etc. Just like the other programs, they are funding streams (i.e. pots of money) that are provided to locally controlled entities to provide the services that meet the needs of particular populations in particular places. This droning on about the vast number of programs and overlapping services is a giant boat load of crap. To all this talk about streamlining these programs, I ask, to what end? As you say, these are just pots of money that are dished out to local areas to run programs that make sense for particular groups in particular places. Putting all of the money into one big pot wouldn't change a thing, and, in fact, would probably be a terrible idea. Is there not a benefit to diversity. Put in a way an academic could understand, would the university system benefit from consolidating all of the various departments in a university into one giant department? Would that help anything?

    In any event, I don't want to ramble anymore. Nice post.


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