More Coordination in Job Training Seen
WASHINGTON--Vocational educators can expect state political leaders and the Congress to pressure them to work more closely with private industry and other employment-related programs, speakers at a conference here last week predicted.
At a time of heightened concern about the nation's economic health, the political climate is clearly right for a renewal of attention to education and job-training needs, a number of experts agreed. But fiscal pressures at the state and federal levels, they warned, will force policymakers to eliminate programs that appear ineffective or redundant.
"The difficulty is that the agenda is expanding, but the resources are narrowing,'' said Anthony Carnevale, chief economist for the American Society for Training and Development.
Coordinated Approach Urged
Several hundred vocational educators, businessmen, and lobbyists gathered to hear Mr. Carnevale and other policy analysts urge a more coordinated approach to meet the expanding needs of a rapidly changing economy.
The event, built around the theme of "competitiveness through a coordinated human-resources strategy,'' was sponsored by the National Alliance of Business and several vocational-education organizations.
While most job-training programs concentrate on serving disadvantaged youths, dislocated workers, and other special populations, Mr. Carnevale noted, millions of employees also need to be taught new skills if they are to survive in a workplace increasingly oriented toward high technology.
"We used to be concerned about 10 percent of the workforce, and now we have to worry about 100 percent,'' he said.
Dena Stoner, a former economist for the Congress's Joint Economic Committee, encouraged participants to focus on the specific training needs of women and Hispanics. Women, she said, filled 75 percent of all jobs created last year, while Hispanics accounted for 26 percent.
"The labor market has fundamentally changed,'' she said, "and vocational education is going to have to deal with that.''
To meet these emerging needs, businesses will find themselves becoming more and more involved in the design and operation of vocational programs, conference organizers said. And, they predicted, businessmen will increasingly look to the education system for help and guidance.
For their part, educators said they were upgrading their facilities and their curricula in an effort to meet those needs.
"We are trying to adapt to the new economy,'' said Robert Poczik, a state education official who headed New York's economic-development task force. "Our progress is frustratingly slow, but we are doing our best.''
In return for such support, vocational educators are looking to the business community to use its clout to protect state and federal funding sources, and to rebut critics who question the effectiveness of job-specific training.
Officials of the National Alliance of Business said they have made it clear to Congressional leaders that they oppose any attempt to drastically reduce vocational funding, according to Pierce Quinlan, the alliance's executive vice president.
Conference speakers expressed confidence that the Congress will continue its longstanding support for vocational education, despite the deep spending cuts proposed by the Reagan Administration. But, several analysts said, in the hope of streamlining what Mr. Carnevale termed "a crazy-quilt training system,'' policymakers will continue to tinker with existing federal programs.
One possibility, he said, is a renewed Congressional effort to merge the vocational-education program with the federal government's other major employment-training effort, the Job Training Partnership Act.
Such a proposal was co-sponsored in 1985 by Senators Dan Quayle, Republican of Indiana, and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. The bill, which would have created a new federal agency to administer a unified occupational-training program, was staunchly opposed by both vocational-education and J.T.P.A. lobbyists and was never voted on.
Mr. Carnevale urged members of the vocational-education community to reconsider their position, saying that they would gain additional clout and visibility from such an arrangement.
But whatever the viability of such a proposal, the Congress will continue to make incremental changes in both programs, according to Mary Gardner, a staff member of the House subcommittee on employment opportunities.
Any future piece of education or training legislation, she predicted, will contain new mechanisms for increasing the coordination of efforts at the state and local levels.
The J.T.P.A., Ms. Gardner noted, was intended to "leverage'' the vocational resources already available through the public schools. Under the act, education agencies are supposed to receive first preference for J.T.P.A. training contracts.
Although these and other reforms have improved the sometimes-hostile relationship between the job-training and vocational-education bureaucracies, "turf battles continue to exist,'' Ms. Gardner said.
"We are still hearing that there are problems at the local level,'' she added.
Indeed, several educators attending the conference expressed doubts about the effectiveness of mandating cooperation.
"I think the way it works out is that he who has the money coordinates and he who wants the money cooperates,'' one vocational instructor said. "I don't think you can legislate true cooperation.''