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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy Executive Summary Postsecondary training for the workplace is a troubled enterprise in the United States. Although it is not in crisis, it suffers from a number of shortcomings that, if not addressed, can impede the nation's ability to provide a prosperous future for U.S. workers. The federal government is not the primary sponsor of postsecondary training, but it can be a critical catalyst in moving the enterprise toward the quality and coherence it currently lacks. Improving the skills of American workers is not a panacea for the nation's economic problems, but it is important. Workers' inadequate skills can keep businesses from adopting advanced technologies and transforming themselves structurally in the ways that are necessary to use the technologies most effectively. Many analysts believe that the United States must follow a high-skill, high-wage path to remain economically competitive in a rapidly changing world. Even if this high-skill, high-wage future turns out to be overstated, better training will improve the economic well-being of those who are well trained. Improving postsecondary training for the workplace has implications for a majority of the nation's workers. Fewer than one-quarter of Americans attend college for the 4 or more years needed to receive a baccalaureate degree. Many of the others, representing most present and future U.S. workers, do pursue some kind of formal or informal preparation for work after leaving high school. Yet public policy has tended to concentrate on the two ends of the training spectrum—high school and college—rather than on the middle ground in between.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy Despite the lack of an explicit focus on postsecondary training, the federal government has over the years evolved an array of programs that provide support for job training. Several dozen programs in seven different cabinet departments provided $20 billion to state and local governments, training providers, and individuals seeking training in fiscal 1991. The largest of these expenditures are found, not in the programs typically regarded as the focal points of federal training policy—such as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act and the Job Training Partnership Act—but in the grants and loans provided by the U.S. Department of Education to students in occupationally oriented postsecondary institutions. Recent problems in the student aid programs (particularly in occupationally oriented schools), coupled with a more general concern about the existence of multiple federal programs aimed at job training, led the Department of Education to ask the National Academy of Sciences to establish a committee to look at postsecondary education and training for the workplace. The committee was asked (1) to help the federal government consider the implications of multiple federal approaches to the provision of postsecondary vocational education and job training; (2) to consider policy alternatives, ranging from increased coordination of existing programs through reallocation of resources to entirely new approaches; and (3) to make recommendations for a coherent and efficient federal policy on postsecondary preparation for work. FINDINGS A future of skilled jobs for well-trained workers requires attention to the economic and labor market environment in which training occurs, to employer needs and to patterns of developing technology, as well as to the training policies addressed in this volume. That both demand and supply affect outcomes, however, does not reduce the need to seriously assess weaknesses in the training of the work force and to try to improve the way U.S. workers are trained. There are four kinds of work-related post-high-school training that modern economies usually believe it necessary to provide: (1) qualifying training, initially preparing people for work; (2) skills improvement training, for employed individuals who want further education and training to upgrade their skills and increase their job mobility; (3) retraining, for those who have been or are about to be displaced from their jobs and so need to prepare for a new line of work; and (4) ''second-chance'' training, for individuals who need some combination of basic education and job skills, perhaps in combination with other social services, to reach economic self-sufficiency through employment.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy Although postsecondary training is not primarily a federal responsibility, the multibillion dollar expenditures of the federal government on postsecondary training can influence the direction and efficiency of that training in the country. At present, however, there is little attention given to how federal programs affect worker training and little understanding of whether the various parts accomplish what they are supposed to or of how the parts relate to each other. In fact, the biggest problem is that the United States does not really have a training system at all. That is, postsecondary training in the United States is not coherent, readily accessible, closely connected to the world of work, with clearly visible and positive effects on those trained, and of acceptable and measurable quality. In an ideal system, individuals seeking to enter or advance in specific occupations would know what kind of training employers value and where to find it. Employers would know what skills and competencies have been developed as a result of training programs. Individuals would have the information they need to gauge their interest in and suitability for various jobs, as well as the likely demand for workers in various fields. Employers would have information about the existing and future supply of trained workers and the means to signal their needs to training institutions. Instead of such a system, the committee found a variety of providers and programs that supply very good training to some people but less adequate or no training to many others. Although qualifying training is readily accessible to many people, the range of options is undoubtedly confusing to some. Qualifying training relies heavily on schools; workplaces are much less often used as formal learning sites. For different reasons, skills improvement training, retraining, and second-chance training are all less widely available. Evidence about the results of training is less thorough than we would like, but on balance the results are positive, though sometimes modest. Some kinds of training, particularly for disadvantaged youth, do not appear to be working. The quality of training is mixed, and processes for quality assurance are underdeveloped. Linkages to employers are often weak. At the crucial level of local labor markets, programs and providers sometimes work together in more harmony than the fragmented national picture would suggest, but the pieces seldom add up to anything that can be described as a system. The federal government, with its proliferation of programs and lack of a coherent overall approach, bears part of the blame for this situation. In recent years a number of states have begun to restructure their programs and processes to more systematically and effectively address work force development. The spread of such efforts is encouraging, though it is too early to evaluate their effect in any formal way.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The committee concludes that the most important task facing the federal government is to help the nation focus its attention on linking the various pieces of and partners in postsecondary training in ways that will provide coherent and high-quality training opportunities for individuals at various stages in their working lives. We believe that federal policy should have three major objectives: fostering high-quality training; improving existing federal programs; and encouraging systemic reform. It is not enough to improve the existing array of categorical programs aimed at specific needs, although improvements must be made. More important is that the federal government must take the lead in promoting policies that encourage quality and coherence in the training system as a whole. We believe that the federal government must be a catalyst in encouraging postsecondary training to evolve in ways that better meet our criteria for a well-functioning system. The term postsecondary training system as used in this report encompasses the notion of a variety of state and local systems, not a single national model. Coherence in postsecondary training is ultimately rooted at the local labor-market level. States are central to developing a training infrastructure that will meet local needs, because they are responsible for many of the training institutions and much of the public funding for training. Thus, a national system should, in fact, be composed of a variety of systems that differ somewhat among states and localities but that present potential trainees and employers with integrated training opportunities and information. Principles to Guide Federal Action In developing policies to address these objectives, the federal government should adhere to seven principles. The federal government should refocus its attention, emphasizing the importance of building a postsecondary training system rather than continuing the piecemeal approach that has characterized past efforts. The biggest needs in postsecondary training are for systemic approaches to training and for structures that can tie together the different parts of training and let individuals move easily among them. There are no "one-size-fits-all" or "magic-bullet" solutions in a country
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy in which the responsibility for training is highly decentralized and when the four types of training needed by workers are so different from one another that multiple approaches and programs are inevitable. Federal policies in the past have paid attention to the differences. All forms of training are related, however, as parts of the process of initially preparing and continuously improving the nation's work force. Good public policy now requires the federal government to give attention to linking the parts together in ways that are coherent to both workers and employers. While not reducing its commitment to fostering equity, the federal government should give special attention to the problem of ensuring quality, in response to the pervasive sense that the quality of American training is at best mixed and often poor. Too little is known about what is actually accomplished by training and what happens to those who are trained. Too little information about the outcomes and results of training is available to potential trainees and those who hire them. The problem of ensuring quality is admittedly complex in a decentralized system, but the federal government can encourage improvement in the quality of postsecondary training in ways compatible with American traditions and institutions. Another way of improving the overall performance of the postsecondary training system is for the federal government to respond to the information that is available about what works and what does not and to make changes when there is evidence that public programs are not achieving their goals. Youth training programs are a good example. The nation should not abandon its concern for high-risk youth because current youth training does not appear to benefit participants. But decision makers should acknowledge forthrightly that current approaches are not working and should aggressively explore new avenues. The federal government should pursue changes in postsecondary training through policies that emphasize continuous improvement rather than radical reform. Much is unknown about what constitutes good practice in training for work and about the effects and outcomes of work-oriented training institutions and programs. At the same time, this is a vital period of innovation and analysis. At such a time, it is more appropriate for the federal government to encourage experimentation, evaluation, and policy evolution than to attempt a radical overhaul of its or the nation's approach to training activities. The approach we propose requires the federal government to think in new ways about how it manages public programs. Part of the federal role in continuously improving postsecondary training should be to evaluate the
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy pace at which good practices are adopted and to determine what kinds of technical assistance and incentives might encourage faster diffusion. One particular area in which the federal government can make an important contribution is in encouraging experimentation with and evaluation of promising training practices and structures that are used in other countries. One example of an approach more prevalent abroad is the use of workplaces rather than schools as training sites for qualifying training. Other countries also have connecting structures and standard-setting mechanisms that tie the training system together: these approaches may lend themselves to adaptation in the United States. The federal government should recognize the key roles that states play in the development of an effective training system. State governments are responsible for a wide range of domestic programs, making it logical for them to have the lead role in implementing training policy. The federal government should not micromanage programs of training for the workplace. States have demonstrated staying power and the ability to innovate effectively over the past decade in a number of related policy areas, including welfare reform, school reform, and economic development. The federal government should seek to enhance the involvement and stake of employers in training policies and systems. Linkages between employers and the world of training need to be stronger because the success of training ultimately depends on its usefulness in the workplace. Involving employers in systemic reform efforts is crucial to securing their attachment to the training system. But employers' interests are not the only interests that must be served by training; their needs must be balanced with the needs of those who require not only firm-specific training but also broader and more transferable skills. The federal government should resist the temptation to spread its resources so thinly that little or no effect is possible. With federal resources constrained by the budget deficit, it is more important than ever to focus available funds where they can do the most good. In addition, focusing resources on successful programs or programs likely to be successful can help create true partners in support of the programs; improve the reputation of training programs and thus reduce the stigmatization of participants, especially those in second-chance programs; and reduce the complexity created by the existence of dozens of (often very small) federal programs.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy "Do no harm": federal policy makers should recognize that it is possible for federal programs to hurt people and should be cautious about extending "help" in such circumstances. One way that federal programs can actually harm people can be seen in student loan programs. If individuals purchase training that offers little hope of giving them the capacity to pay back loans, they have a high chance of becoming defaulters. They risk often unpleasant pursuit by loan collectors, finding their credit records damaged, and losing future eligibility for student assistance for which they might otherwise have qualified. Those who design public policies should avoid creating situations in which individuals are likely to be harmed by participating in a public program. Fostering High-Quality Training The primary aim of postsecondary training policy should be the development of state and local systems of training that provide high-quality training to individuals throughout their working lives. In thinking about how this goal could be accomplished, the committee gave a great deal of attention to the question of whether performance management and standard-setting, which are being increasingly adopted in federal training programs, are likely to be effective tools to improve the quality of postsecondary training. Our analysis led to three major conclusions. The impulse behind performance management and the spread of performance standards in federal programs is praiseworthy, but the complexities involved suggest that a cautious approach is warranted. Standards can be specifications of how well a person or entity is performing on a specific measure or indicator (as in the Job Training Partnership Act performance management system), or they can be statements embodying a coherent vision of what an individual should know or be able to do at a given stage in his or her educational development (as in the curriculum standards for mathematics and science being developed by various professional groups). Standards can, in the right circumstances, produce a variety of benefits: providing clearer guidance and direction for education and training institutions; focusing providers primarily on outputs rather than inputs; encouraging greater coherence and coordination among services aimed at similar populations; improving accountability; improving evaluation and diagnosis; and certifying institutions and credentialing individuals. However, there are a number of complex problems involved in designing standard-setting systems, problems that become even more complex in the decentralized and fragmented world of postsecondary training.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy Even when federal authority is clear, as in a program like the Job Training Partnership Act, the difficulty of distinguishing overall program outcomes from the value added (impact) of a program means that standard-setting is not an easy process. The possibility of perverse results from standard-setting efforts leads us to urge caution in tying performance standards to outcomes, care in the use of incentives and sanctions when they may lead program administrators to emphasize inappropriate objectives, and work to develop better ways of measuring effects and reflecting them in the standard-setting process. We also urge, along with improving outcome-oriented standards, that attention be given to so-called design standards that are process oriented (rather than emphasizing either inputs or outcomes) and that focus on spreading the adoption of validated best practices about how to conduct training programs. The federal interest in quality assurance must extend beyond federal programs if the entire postsecondary training system is to improve; this suggests an approach to standard-setting emphasizing changing institutions rather than regulating federally funded activities. Much of postsecondary training lies beyond the clear influence of the federal government. Performance management should go beyond its traditional focus on establishing measures and standards in specific federal programs, aiming instead for improvement in the entire postsecondary training system. There are two general approaches available for the task of standard-setting. The first, currently found in federal performance management systems, assumes that any federal effort to set standards should be focused on the recipients of federal funds and that federal money is the federal government's main source of leverage. The second, which we prefer, assumes that the federal government's interest in improving the quality of training goes beyond just those providers and recipients directly affected by federal funds. In this view, the federal government has two main sources of leverage—its funding and its capacity to set a national agenda and mobilize key institutional interests behind that agenda. We recommend that the federal government pursue a quality assurance approach to postsecondary training that reaches beyond the providers and recipients of federally funded training and that attempts to influence the entire training system through: fostering the development of voluntary, national, occupationally based skills standards; improving information systems; and building capacity for improved performance in the providers of postsecondary training. The federal government should emphasize continuous improvement
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy rather than top-down management strategies that focus on regulatory compliance in its approach to quality assurance. This approach is more compatible with the diffuse authority exercised by the federal government in many parts of the postsecondary training world. Emphasizing improvement rather than compliance also helps to avoid the danger that standard-setting for postsecondary training will degrade into a minimum-standards approach. Improving Federal Programs The committee believes that the federal government needs to make sure that its own postsecondary training programs work as well as possible. We recognize that the existing array of programs reflects different training needs as well as a diversity of financing mechanisms. We did not find strong arguments for such design changes as "voucherizing" all support for postsecondary training or converting all programs to contracts with service providers. We also found that little is known about the effects of many current efforts. For these reasons, we do not recommend a radical restructuring of federal postsecondary training programs. Rather, we argue for continuous improvement and propose a number of initial steps to enhance current federal activities: Qualifying training Support and evaluate the institutional integrity provisions of the 1992 Higher Education Act amendments designed to increase state oversight over institutional eligibility for federal student aid programs. Augment the institutional integrity provisions by requiring states to use employment and wage records to monitor the posttraining performance of all vocational programs in which significant numbers of students borrow through federal student loan programs. Conduct a demonstration project allowing one or more states to determine the eligibility of training programs within postsecondary institutions for federal student aid funds based on criteria the state would propose. Conduct a limited number of large-scale demonstration projects to test the feasibility of expanding youth apprenticeship programs, while also working to integrate youth apprenticeship into a system of structured school-to-work pathways for youth that include other career-oriented approaches, such as TechPrep, career academies, and cooperative education.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy Skills improvement training and worker retraining Promote the adoption of new forms of workplace organization, make firms aware of training options, and sponsor experiments and demonstration projects with new labor market structures that would enhance workplace restructuring. Consolidate federal programs for dislocated workers. Second-chance training Increase the federal matching rate in the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program to encourage full participation by states. Test innovative and far-reaching second-chance strategies for disadvantaged youth, in recognition that current approaches are not producing positive results for this important group. Extend the experimental approach to evaluation that has contributed significantly to the evolution of federal training and welfare programs to the field of adult basic education and the activities funded under the Adult Education Act. Encouraging Systemic Reform Although we have strong reservations about the federal government's trying to micromanage programs, we believe that it has an important new role to play as a catalyst or agent of change in encouraging systemic reform. We find there are six functions through which the federal government could encourage the building of a postsecondary training system: (1) making grants (primarily to states) to help them build public and private capacity to act in system-like ways; (2) rationalizing conflicting federal requirements; (3) granting waivers upon application from states who need relief from federal rules to carry out systemic reforms; (4) creating the framework for the development of national skills standards; (5) conducting research and fostering the development of integrated information systems; and (6) reporting annually on the state of the American work force. We reviewed a number of alternative vehicles through which the federal government could carry out those functions. Most of us concluded that existing arrangements are inadequate to the role we believe the federal government should play and that a new mechanism is needed if the federal government is to contribute meaningfully to the transformation of postsecondary training. The option we analyzed most carefully involves creation of an Office of Work Force Development, modeled on the National Science Foundation. We envision an office with high visibility and significant powers to lead the federal effort to spark improvement and reform in postsecondary training by carrying out most or all of the functions just described. We think it is crucial to involve important nonfederal constituencies in the activities of
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy the office and would do this in various ways, including careful composition of the office's governing board and a skills standards oversight board and the use of a peer review process to advise on the approval of grant applications and waiver requests. We would like to see this office "pick winners" quite consciously, rather than operating in an automatic and formulaic way. All of the committee members agree on the need for the federal government to become an agent of change in the task of building a strong postsecondary training system in the United States. We differ somewhat on the best vehicle for carrying out this role. We all believe, however, that the federal government should take on the functions we have identified and, with them, a new and critically needed role as catalyst in encouraging the development of a training system equal to the world's best.
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