Worker training for high-paying, high-skill jobs is an American refrain for the '90s. A scared public desperately demands it. Politicians in Washington battle over how to provide it. And effective solutions seem unattainable.
But drop down to ground level, where actual workers labor on machines in factories, and it's a different picture. An enormous amount of high-skills training is going on in the U.S. Businesses are training their workers at community colleges while sharing the expense with state governments. Government isn't doing everything. It is a practical model.
The formulas vary from state to state, but one element is constant: the community college as a major center for learning and training. Sometimes, businesses donate equipment and contract directly with the colleges to teach specific job skills, statistical and quality analysis, or organization skills. Occasionally, community colleges get small federal grants to buy equipment. But most often, state governors, eager to promote economic growth and jobs, step in with financing.
In Iowa, one of a dozen states with unemployment rates of 4.5% or less--way below the national average of 5.1%--GOP Governor Terry E. Branstad is using community colleges to train employees in a very tight labor market. In the early '80s, Branstad set up a program that takes a percentage of the income tax generated by new hires and uses it to finance tax-exempt bonds sold by community colleges. The colleges then apply the funds to training the new hires. Branstad is using the program to upgrade worker skills as well.
He isn't alone. Republican and Democratic governors all over the nation are using their taxing power to promote worker training. But the sums are modest, and the training is focused. Companies negotiate with community colleges or other institutions to help meet their training needs. When they pay for training, contracts often last less than three months and cost under $10,000. It's efficient education, and it works.