Grants for new jobs training program announced, but will jobs follow?


By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — The Department of Workforce Development has begun doling out the first Fast Forward grants, another $2.6 million poured into a $406 million pool of taxpayer subsidized training.

Grants from Gov. Scott Walker’s initiative are being given to 32 business and organizations to improve on the pool of existing programs in the state, most of which the federal government pays for.

WORTH IT? Grants have been announced for Gov. Scott Walker’s new job training initiative. But will taxpayers get their money’s worth?

The initiative is directing $1.9 million to train manufacturing workers, $600,000 to train customer service workers and $120,000 to train construction workers, as many as 2,150 people. Many of these people have jobs and will be retrained for advancement opportunities.

While the program benefits business owners and potential trainees, taxpayers bear the burden.

“There are worse ways for governments to use money, but when all is said and done, I don’t think programs like these are all they’re cracked up to be,” Art Carden, an economist at the Brock School of Business at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala,, said in an email. “Less visible (but no less real) are the things we have to give up in order to pay for workforce training programs.”

Current programs highlight metrics such as people who received services, but they bury more common-sense metrics such as employment obtained due to the government program. To the federal government, success is measured more by the number of people who seek services rather than the people who secure jobs through training.

The Workforce Investment Act, a $41 million program in Wisconsin, “served” 338,453 adults in 2012, according to state figures. But 323,135 of those adults were “self-serve only” participants, meaning they may have uploaded a resume to the state jobs database or watched a webinar on how to prepare for an interview.

Just 1,240 adults received a job within three months of exiting a WIA program, according to figures from DWD.

The Individual Training Account, a voucher program covered under the WIA, allows people to select a state-approved training program and get reimbursed for some of the associated costs, such as tuition, books, uniforms and transportation.

In the past 14 years, that program has served 26,430 people, yet just 47 percent of those entered employment related to their training. Another 22 percent found a job in another field.

“Some might object that there are spillover benefits from workforce training, but I’m not convinced,” Carden said. “The benefits to more advanced skills accrue to the workers themselves, so the economic case for taxpayer-funded workforce training programs isn’t as strong as it might at first appear.”

Scott Jansen, director of the newly created Office of Skills Development at the Department of Workforce Development, says Fast Forward is a corrective.

Instead of catering solely to the unemployed, working poor and other people with barriers to employment — as do the programs that fall under the federally funded Workforce Investment Act — the Fast Forward program asks businesses what kind of job training they need help paying for.

The thought is that some employers could offer higher paying positions to current employees or make a new hire of someone who just completed a technical college degree, if those people had the specialized training required by the company.

The state won’t pay for a training program if it’s offered elsewhere in the region. The employer may select the trainees he wants to enter the program. The employer also agrees to hire a pre-determined number of workers who complete training and is required to match the state grant — dollar for dollar for larger companies and 50 cents on every dollar for smaller companies.

“I don’t see it as corporate welfare, I see it as completing the public investment,” Jansen told Wisconsin Reporter. “If for whatever reason the individual is so close (to having the necessary skill set), why wouldn’t we invest another $800; not just for the employee, but to keep the employer moving forward as well.”

Still, taxpayers spend a lot for the myriad job training programs.

In a 2011 report, the federal Government Accountability Office wrote that only five of the 47 federal job training programs, totaling $18 billion, “had impact studies that assess whether the program is responsible for improved employment outcomes,” and the positive effects of those five “tended to be small, inconclusive, or restricted to short-term impacts.”

President Obama has asked for Vice President Joe Biden to examine the various jobs training programs and get rid of inefficient and outdated programming. Obama stopped by a General Electric plant in Waukesha recently to praise Wisconsin’s job training programs.

Contact Ryan Ekvall at, 608-257-1382 or on Twitter @Nockian.

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