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Finally, Job Training Hits The Hustings



The emergence of a global economy in the 1980s has made it increasingly clear that much of the U.S. work force is ill-equipped to compete with its rivals. On Aug. 24, spurred on by Democratic nominee Bill Clinton's proposals for worker training, President Bush finally focused on the subject (page 30).

The specifics of Bush's initiative are sound as far as they go. Essentially, the President wants to juice up the existing programs that are aimed at dislocated and disadvantaged workers and youth. But Clinton's suggestions are more ambitious. Instead of simply helping disadvantaged people to find jobs, as current programs tend to do, the Democratic candidate's proposal would help them develop their skills as well. Similarly, Bush's youth-apprenticeship initiative is a good start. But Clinton wants a national program similar to the vaunted German one, aimed at the 56% of students who don't go to college.

The primary drawback of Bush's approach is that it addresses the problem at the margins. By concentrating on the disadvantaged, he ignores current workers. Yet experts say that more than half of today's work force needs upgraded skills. Some business leaders will chafe at Clinton's scheme, which would require larger companies to spend 1.5% of payroll on training. But there are other possible approaches, such as training vouchers, industry-specific skill standards, or that gop standby, the tax credit. Indeed, Bush's own Labor Dept. has been developing such ideas for years.

Clinton's ideas have problems, too. He hasn't specified how he would pay for everything. Simply forcing companies to spend on training could turn out to be a waste of money. Still, it's heartening to see the issue of making our work force competitive now squarely on the agenda.

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