Plenty of job training, not enough jobs

September 3, 2010

By Michael Bernick

As we arrive at Labor Day 2010, the job numbers remain the worst in California since World War II in California, and some of the worst in the nation since World War II. State unemployment is at 12.3%– and would be higher, except that the number of workers counted as seeking work has declined.

Payroll jobs through July 2010 stood at 13,874,900, down slightly more than14,000 jobs from July 2009-and down from a high of 15.2 million jobs in July 2007.

The severe job losses we saw in the first half of 2009 (which topped over 100,000 net jobs lost in January 2009 alone) stopped by last Labor Day, and we have not seen similar losses since. But neither have we seen any significant net job gains. The dog hasn’t barked in the night, and the past year in California employment has been characterized mainly by what has not occurred rather than what has.

If there is any symbol of Labor Day 2010, it is the NUMMI plant closing and re-employment effort in Fremont, California. In March of this year the New United Motors Company (NUMMI) in Fremont closed. It was employing around 4700 workers in recent years. It was the last automobile plant in California.

Immediately, there was an outpouring of financial support for the laid-off workers, in terms of job training and job placement funds from the federal government and from the state government. A sophisticated and energetic re-employment team was assembled, including the United Auto Workers, EDD, and the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board (WIB). This re-employment effort since April has received a $19 million re-employment grant (National Emergency Grant) from the federal Department of Labor, as well as various other job training grants from the state. Participation among the workers in the re-employment program is voluntary, but already 2500 of the laid-off workers have enrolled-a high percentage among plant closures.

The re-employment process, though, has been and is likely to continue to be a very slow, incremental and difficult process. This is not due to a deficit in training funds, or a failure of the training effort to connect to jobs. The re-employment team is only funding training when the training provider can show a high probability of a job upon completion. The team is not suffering from lack of training funds, for even more training money than already received will be available as justified.

The obstacle, as you might expect on Labor Day 2010, is the dearth of identified job opportunities in the region. So far there have been niche trainings for limited numbers of workers, particularly the Cisco Academy training for IT technicians. The Cisco Academy training may reach 100 workers over the year, though the re-employment team is hesitant to increase the number, wanting to ensure job placements. Other trainings have been undertaken for health care technicians and truck drivers, but they have remained under 50 workers, to maximize placement chances.

I’ll have more on NUMMI in the next weeks, including the perspective of Roy Bertuccelli, a workforce development specialist at the Alameda County WIB, who has followed auto worker employment and re-employment since 1982. Roy worked as an auto worker at the Fremont plant, when it was a General Motors plant, before NUMMI arrived.

Michael Bernick is a former California Employment Development Department Director and Milken Institute Fellow. This column first appeared on foxandhoundsdaily.com

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