As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress, the federal government has set aside approximately $3.5 billion for job training. While this money will be used to increase service levels and address immediate employment needs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are additional funds forthcoming that will support training in high-growth and emerging industries.
“Lawmakers understand that there is a clear connection between learning, job creation and economic recovery,” said Tony Bingham, president and CEO of ASTD. “The focus on workforce training is critical to helping the public and private sectors fill skill gaps and build their talent.”
With this economic stimulus money, President Barack Obama has pledged to provide an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability. CLOs, if they get a piece of the job-training pie, will have more responsibility to document their return on investment, according to Barbara Poole, founder and president of Employaid, an online community for employees, employers and small business owners.
“Money is not just going to be handed out in a check. It will have to be allocated through grant procedures so there can be quantifiable performance targets as well as results,” she explained.
“What will happen is CLOs will [tune] their classes, their curriculum and [their] buying decisions [to] very specific job-related activities that have impact. The fluff will be removed. It will be statistically relevant training that will provide support to the organization in an economy that is wounded.”
According to Recovery.gov, which provides up-to-date information about the expenditure of the stimulus money, governmental agencies will divvy up the money and decide who receives award grants and contracts. In some instances, the money will go to state governments and in other situations it will go directly to organizations.
To report on how the money is spent, each federal agency involved will provide spending and performance data to the Recovery.gov site so that taxpayers can track each dollar, according to a memo from the Office of Management and Budget.
“If we see this happen any other way, it will be the equivalent of what happened when banks took multimillions of dollars with no accountability for how they spent that money and now they’re up to the plate looking for more,” Poole said. “Can you imagine millions of dollars spilling out all [over] the country with no real mechanism to get feedback?”
She believes some of the money will be dedicated to retraining those who have been laid off, but some of it also will go to corporations, if they apply for it, to help them retool their workforces.
“I think the emphasis is going to be twofold,” Poole said. “It’s going to be on specific job skills training, and that might be how do I attach this line, how do I dig this trench kind of training. But the other [emphasis] will be on how do I as an employee deal with sweeping change in my organization [and how do I] function in de-layered environments?”
Learning developed for this training will have to be more innovative to meet needs in a cost-effective way.
“Classes will not apply in all situations,” Poole said. “They certainly don’t apply now, and [they don’t apply] when money is tight and every dollar counts. Learning will have to follow innovative standards to meet the vast needs because we’re going to see retraining at the basic trench level of ‘how do I dig the trench?’ all the way up to ‘how do I program and manufacture?’”
When asked whether $3.5 billion was enough for all this training, she said: “I don’t think anybody has the answer to that, and that is because of the sheer numbers of people who are being let go. It is unprecedented.”
No matter what, though, retraining must happen.
“Retraining right now is not an option: It’s an imperative,” Poole said. “We have a situation [in the] workforce, where for the first time in well over 30 years, people are being laid off from industries that are literally imploding. We know these folks in many cases will [not] in the near future acquire employment within the same industry. It’s not like, should we build the high-speed rail line to Las Vegas? It’s do we retrain the workforce?”