From Training to a Job

March 12, 2010 | Inside Higher Ed |  Link to article

The United States is doing a lousy job at helping people get training and then find a job, argued a group of scholars who gathered here Wednesday to unveil a set of suggested reforms.

A sweeping blueprint for updating and coordinating the myriad federal, state and local resources individuals use to find employment is outlined in the latest policy paper from the Center for American Progress.

"We are in a new economy, yet we continue to use the same old methods and tools of helping people connect to jobs and navigate careers," said Vickie Choitz, the paper's lead author and senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, at a discussion about her work. "This is why we call for a new approach to career navigation systems. It's why we call for recommendations that the federal government should enact because this is a national economic imperative."

Though Choitz admitted there are some valuable resources already available to job-seekers, she argued that they are scattershot and may even do more harm than good.

"It's not like there's nothing for people to turn to," Choitz said. "The problem is there's too many little small things, boutique-y programs that are not organized or coordinated or presented to individuals in a way that makes sense to them. There's counselors, there's coaches, there's advisers. ... You can access some resources at community college, public systems, [community based organizations], unions. Although they're not widespread, these are little hidden pockets that are there for individuals."

Choitz suggests that the federal government create a "career navigation service" that compiles all of the education, training and placement resources for job-seekers in one place. And, despite some criticism, she thinks it should be online.

"I just want to take a moment to preempt anybody who says, ‘But there's a digital divide. Low-income people don't have access to the Internet. We can't do this,' " Choitz said. "Well, newsflash: low-income people are going to have to become technologically savvy. We're going to have to make sure they have access to the Internet because there's way too much valuable information out there on the Internet for us to be segregating low-income, low-skilled individuals."

Choitz envisions that users would create a profile page with such a service that would list their education, work experience and interests. Such a profile could then be turned into a résumé or multiple résumés for jobs in different fields. The user could then elect to make part of their profile available to potential employers.

The system Choitz recommends would provide users with skills assessments, accurate labor market information for their localities and a directory of educational opportunities available to them. There would also be a social networking component that would allow users to interact with peers, counselors and employers for support.

"This isn't rocket science," Choitz argued. "We can do this. It's just a matter of coordinating it."

A critical aspect of Choitz's model is that users would have "continuous and lifelong" access to it and the "career navigation" it provides. The failing of the many current workforce development services available to individuals, she said, is that they are lost as soon as an individual either leaves an educational institution or stops seeking help from a government organization.

"Everyone needs career counseling," Choitz explained. "Some may need more. Some may need less. Some may need some at a particular point in time. You may take a break from it. You might be in a great career, and you might not need counseling. But I can guarantee that at some point everyone will need career counseling or career navigation assistance."

Still, Choitz cautioned that such a system should be "unbiased and objective," and therefore free from being monopolized solely by community colleges, employers or industry associations. If users are in a particular career, she noted, they need "targeted advice." But if they are exploring numerous careers or looking to change one, she added, they need "broader advice."

Choitz's proposed national model is not without some precedent on the state level. The Virginia Community College System launched the Education Wizard, a self-described "interactive, career-planning tool" for state community college students, last year. VCCS officials touted its early success, noting that more than 200,000 unique profiles were created in its first few months online.

In addition to encouraging the development and scaling-up of models like the one created in Virginia, Choitz suggests that the Departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services research ways to collaborate on a national project and push for its creation.

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