Policy wonks have talked for years about the need for more job training. Now, the Presidential race has put the issue on the front burner. Training was central to the economic blueprint Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton rolled out in June. On Aug. 24, President Bush hit back with his own version.
Despite some overlap between the proposals, sharp differences remain. Clinton favors active government involvement in comprehensive training and apprenticeship programs. To help pay for it, he wants companies to spend 1.5% of their payrolls on training. Bush plans to add $2 billion a year to what the government spends on programs for young people and disadvantaged and dislocated workers. To pay for his proposals, he promises unspecified budget cuts. "The Republican approach is to help people who have fallen out of the economy," says Anthony P. Carnevale, an economist at the nonpartisan American Society for Training & Development. "They have no policy for making current workers more adaptable, as Clinton does."
APPRENTICESHIPS. Bush's program, which Administration insiders say was cobbled together by Labor Dept. officials after a mid-August demand from the White House, would juice up a couple of programs the President has tried to cut over the years. Two initiatives aimed at dislocated workers would be rolled into one. Their funding would rise from $750 million a year to $2 billion by 1994, and eligibility would be increased.
The President also would create a Youth Training Corps, modeled after the successful Job Corps, which would reopen closed military bases as training centers for 43,000 youths. And he would spend $100 million a year to start youth apprenticeship programs. Those initiatives would cost $1 billion a year, of which $600 million would be new money.
Clinton, by contrast, is painting on a much broader canvas. He wants to set up a national network of community centers to give dropouts remedial education and skill training. He has proposed a national apprenticeship program for the 56% of students who don't go to college. Clinton also promises to create a coherent national training policy by coordinating current schemes. However, the Democratic candidate hasn't said how he'll pay for it.
JOB KILLER? Clinton's most controversial approach: mandated business investment in training. The idea, practiced in many countries, is to require larger companies to spend 1.5% of their payrolls on training. "That proposal is a job destroyer," charges a Labor Dept. spokesman.
But the Clinton camp argues that training creates more jobs than it loses. Some experts agree. Carnevale's studies show that training to boost technical skills typically triples employee productivity. He also estimates that the mandate would double current corporate spending on training, to $60 billion a year. Conventional economic wisdom holds that $100,000 in new investments will create one $25,000-a-year job. By that logic, Clinton's mandate could create nearly 900,000 new jobs. Add in the ripple effect, says Carnevale, and the result "could be 1.8 million new jobs after seven or eight years."
Bush's proposals suggest that making the work force competitive will gain prominence as a campaign issue. That means job training will receive a boost, no matter who wins in November.