Washington’s job training is an expensive, bureaucratic, ineffective mess. Start with the more than $18 billion spent on 47 training programs across nine agencies. Job Corps alone spends as much as $76,000 per person, often to place young people in minimum-wage jobs, according to a 2012 report by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. On top of that, the nonpartisan America Forward calculates that when all workforce-development programs are included, the price tag to taxpayers is closer to $60 billion a year. Just imagine all the political interests in congressional districts with long-term addictions to those federal contract dollars. Change won’t come easily.
The picture is even worse when you consider that the core job-training law dates to 1998. “We haven’t revamped the Workforce Investment Act [tasked with coordinating these programs] since the year Google was incorporated and hired its first employee,” says Shirley Sagawa, America Forward’s senior policy adviser.
But in the 16 years that lawmakers of both parties have mostly wasted billions in taxpayer dollars, the private sector has seeded models that actually work. CEOs at Fortune 500 companies such as J.P. Morgan and American Express single out the Boston-based Year Up, founded by IT entrepreneur Gerald Chertavian and now in 10 major cities. Contrast the privately supported Year Up and the federally funded Job Corps, and you can see why solutions rarely come from Washington.