For Bronx job trainer Andy Van Kleunen, success means helping an unemployed person get the skills to start a promising, decently paid career, like being a nurse’s aide or construction worker.
Unfortunately for professionals like Van Kleunen, politicians now seem to think that success merely means getting the unemployed into a job–any job.
Fearful that new federal programs are pushing the unemployed into poorly paid, unstable McJobs, a coalition of job trainers has founded the Workforce Alliance, a nationwide umbrella group that will advocate for programs that provide poor people with intensive skills training.
“We want to counter the sense that you find in Congress that job training doesn’t work,” says Van Kleunen of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, a health care and employment advocacy group. “Many legislators have the idea that poor people just need a swift kick in the pants, and then they’ll go get a job.”
Van Kleunen, who helped found the new alliance, says that employment professionals are most concerned about the ongoing implementation of the Workforce Investment Act, a 1998 federal law that seeks to streamline and reform tangled job-training money streams.
“The legislation was mostly shaped by politicians, academics and business interests,” says Luke Weisberg of the Chicago Jobs Council, another alliance founder. “There was almost no input from the professionals and organizations who actually work on the ground with poor folks. It took us by surprise.” The Workforce Alliance is hoping to make up for that, by influencing how the act is put into effect on the local level.
The coalition’s founders also fear that the new law may cripple or even close small community-based job training organizations, which will no longer receive steady federal contracts but instead depend on an unpredictable voucher system.