Do “re-training” programs even work?

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I just started doing some work about 45 minutes from me (driving), so I’m getting into the podcast kick a little bit. Listened to some of Andrew Yang and Joe Rogan from last February this morning. The early part of the interview is about automation and re-training, which is a huge topic globally that most people are burying their head in the sand about. I’ve actually blogged about re-training before, and one of the more interesting things (to me, at least) that I’ve ever written is about this idea of turning truck drivers into data scientists. But, there are some problems in this discussion.

1. Does a “skills gap” truly exist?

I personally do not believe one exists, and that it’s more an issue of companies not really wanting to pay people fairly or develop them. I think in certain tech/coding languages, there probably is a “skills gap,” but we also talk about tech too much. It’s 8 percent of the North American economy. We cannot simply put 92 percent of people into tech roles overnight. The play right now is “STEM this and engineering camp for my kids that,” but I don’t know if the numbers even line up there. Companies are run by cost-cutters. Never ignore that fact either.

But if companies are bitching that they can’t find people and people are bitching that they can’t find jobs that pay enough to keep up with expenses, well, what can be done? Re-training, right?

2. But does re-training actually work?

Uh, not really. See here, here, and here. Even The Wall Street Journal has piped up on how the programs “fall short.” On that podcast above, Yang says that in independent studies, the success rate is about 0–15%, on average. Most of those links I included for you will say the same, or maybe slightly higher — but nothing major.

3. The mentality of employers

Let’s say you have two options in front of you →

  • A 50 year-old former truck driver with a HS education
  • A 25 year-old from a community college

100 out of 100 employers are likely taking the second option, for various reasons: Ageism, perception of tech skills, lower cost, etc, etc. So even if we re-train and it does work well (yay!), employers are still going to broadly take cheaper, younger options than those coming from re-training programs. Is this always true? No. But would it be true more than half of the time? I’d bet that is accurate.

Seemingly related/unrelated to all this: Ivanka Trump spoke about all this at CES this week. Odd? Maybe, but consider her father’s “base.”

4. So what do we do?

Well, we need to do something, right? We need to care more about, and do better at, training. Right now, we mostly do not. (Leadership training is also a train wreck.)

And even though some argue that the “point” of higher education is “learning how to think” or something, in reality if a person is going to go into lots of debt to get a fancy piece of paper, that paper needs to be aligned with getting a job down the road. There has to be a tie between “higher education” (or even high school education) and “employment.” It makes no sense otherwise. Higher education has emerged as problematic in this regard.

Because of “disruption” — and clueless management — companies often don’t forecast their needs very well. Broadly we know that the “future workforce” needs more people focused on AR, VR, AI, smart devices, etc… but again, tech is 8 percent of the employment economy. Not everyone in suburbia is going to learn how to make AR glasses. So we need some context for other types of jobs that Sammy Suburbs can do when he leaves the nest.

More cooperation between biz and academics? Maybe. Although those relationships are fraught.

I think we’ll probably keep doing what we’ve always done, which is fumbling towards kinda sorta maybe figuring it out. I don’t know if that will solve anything for us, so we’re rapidly seemingly headed to a world where people aren’t well-skilled, aren’t well-trained, and the benefits of tech go to the owners and developers only. Well, shit.

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