Training for Jobs That Don’t Exist
Under normal circumstances, this program might be an unalloyed positive, and I do believe that every student should have some familiarity with construction and trades:
On Olmsted Way, a short street across from the Wanskuck Mill on Charles Street, 10 graduates of the YouthBuild Providence program are at work this summer, renovating 24 apartments in two buildings at the Olmsted Gardens affordable-housing complex. …
In the YouthBuild Providence program, www.youthbuildprov.org, part of the national YouthBuild network, low-income youths ages 16 to 24 work to earn their GEDs or high school diplomas while also learning job skills by building affordable housing. Marques said the 10-month educational program includes alternating weeks of classroom work and on-the-job training.
The money for the program appears to come, ultimately, through the federal government, in part (one infers) by paying for the projects, which thereby operate with the inexpensive labor. But are public dollars spent on training for a flailing industry really a good idea?
The organization’s Web site calls construction “a booming industry in our state that is poised for substantial growth.” Another article in Sunday’s Providence Journal, however, describes the industry’s employment position as follows:
In building construction, slight job gains in commercial and industrial construction are being swamped by losses in residential, where foreclosures, tight credit and depressed prices have taken a toll. In June, residential and commercial building companies employed 1.2 million workers, down 15,900, or 1.3% from a year earlier, according to the Labor Department.
Back in October, Rhode Island led the nation in its percentage of construction jobs lost, and I haven’t seen any evidence that much has changed. That means that job training programs focusing on building are adding low-end labor to an industry that already has a great deal of downward pressure on employment and salaries. And a 10-month program does so relatively quickly.
That sounds like a blueprint for stagnation for older workers and disappointment for new entrants to the trade. Were it a (gasp) for-profit program — with enrollees paying for their training — it would have to adjust to economic trends. With government funding, the folks making the financial decisions aren’t those who stand to gain or lose by graduates’ success or failure, and the bureaucracy in place to funnel the funds generates its own motivation.