Will California investment in new job training programs pay off?


[ Article was originally posted on https://calmatters.org ]

By its own account, the state’s effort to train Californians for “green jobs” coming out of the Great Recession fell short in helping them find work and improving wages.

Using 2009 federal recovery act money, the state created training programs for jobs such as energy auditors or rooftop solar installation.

But the state Employment Development Department acknowledged the programs were based on “myths and misconceptions” about climate change-related jobs and what made workforce development programs effective. And as demand for these hyper-specific green jobs declined, so did job opportunities and wages — not quite the long-lasting, high-paying jobs the state hoped to create.

Since 2017, California has tried a different approach — High Road Training Partnerships — to build on those lessons, create a broader range of jobs and work more closely with industries.

Now Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders want to invest millions more in High Road partnerships to help California rebuild after another economic crisis.

Newsom proposed $25 million in his January budget and added $90 million in his May revision, totaling $115 million. He cited record unemployment rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term impacts on the state labor market — especially on women, people of color, at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated people, among the groups with barriers to employment. 

On Monday, the Legislature passed its budget that included Newsom’s initial $25 million for High Roads and set aside $60 million for workforce development, tied to a larger jobs and economic development package.

While the final budget deal is still being negotiated, the Legislature also approved the governor’s request for additional $20 million for apprenticeship programs in residential construction, plus $10 million in federal funds, partnering with workforce boards, colleges and the housing industry. 

Worth the investment?

Though growing in popularity as a part of state policy and spending, “High Road” is not a new idea. It started out as a concept discussed in academic and advocacy circles; in 1990, University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist Joel Rogers defined it as “a family of strategies for human development under competitive market conditions that treat shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and efficient democracy as necessary complements, not tragic tradeoffs.” 

“The folks who are justifiably critical of the conventional approach say it’s about train and pray — train a bunch of people in skills that you think they might want and pray that they might get hired.”

carol zabin, UC Berkeley Labor Center

In California, the foundation of the High Road training program was Proposition 39, approved by voters in 2012 to create “clean energy” jobs and give $1.7 billion over five years to K-12 schools for energy efficiency upgrades. 

A 2013 analysis by the state’s employment department found “no discernible evidence that green firms were more likely to create jobs than non-green firms.”

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