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GAO: We Can't Fill Good Jobs When There's No Training

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- With the economy recovering slowly and the job market still rather tight, most would assume employers would have no trouble filling open positions. That isn't necessarily the case.

According to a recent survey by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 80% of areas surveyed had trouble helping employers fill "middle-skilled" positions such as welders, truckers and machinists because many applicants lack the necessary qualifications.

That's because most of these positions need training beyond a high school diploma, and many prospective workers face roadblocks to getting or completing training -- such as a lack of money, child care or reliable transportation.

Specifically, 67% of survey respondents referred to participants' lack of access to transportation and child care as an obstacle, while 66% found that many of the potential workers lacked even basic skills in areas such as reading and math needed to take part in training. Additionally, 62% of respondents had difficulty finding training providers that could adapt quickly to the evolving needs of employers, while more than half (54%) noted that costs of training were too high for many prospective employees.

The survey looked at 200 of the approximately 600 state and local Worker Investment Boards tasked with helping employers find hires for open positions -- part of the Department of Labor's Workforce Investment Act Adult and Dislocated Worker programs.

The funds for the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs have also been cut by nearly a quarter (24%) since 2000  down from $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2000 to $1.9 billion this year, although the WIBs still provided job training to more than 250,000 participants in 2011. Many WIB representatives cited the decrease in funding as a formidable challenge in maximizing their goals, forcing them to make difficult tradeoffs on how to distribute limited training funds over a broad population.

"Because it takes more time and resources to prepare low-skilled participants to enter training, local areas must balance helping low-skilled workers improve their skills with serving as many individuals as possible," the GAO summed up.

To help participants, the Department of Labor coordinated with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to pay for and provide guidance for linking basic skills education, occupational training and support services. This "Career Pathways" approach needs more research to see how well it works, the GAO says.

"Little is known about the extent to which local areas are using career pathways approaches  or how they are using these approaches -- specifically to prepare participants for middle-skilled jobs that employers have had difficulty filling," the report says.

"Without information on whether and how local areas are using these approaches to prepare participants for such jobs, DOL may not be well-positioned to help local areas use these approaches to better meet employers' needs," the GAO says.

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