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Rhetoric on Job Training Is Similar, But Records Differ

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If there is one subject on which the 1992 contenders for President seem to agree, it is on the need for more and better job training.

Both President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas have advocated a national program of youth apprenticeships and greater investments in worker training and retraining.

Ross Perot, the independent candidate, has proposed tax credits totaling $10.3 billion for businesses that provide worker training.

But while the candidates' rhetoric is remarkably similar, observers say that their records and their approaches--at least those of President Bush and Governor Clinton--differ markedly.

"I think in reality, there is an enormous difference'' between the Republican and Democratic candidates, said Anne L. Heald, the executive director of the Center for Learning and Competitiveness at the University of Maryland.

Ms. Heald and other experts assert that while Mr. Clinton's job-training agenda lacks specifics, it is both broader in scope and more systemic in nature than the approach favored by Mr. Bush.

Moreover, they say, Mr. Clinton's proposals grow out of a longtime involvement in education and training issues on the part of both the Governor and his wife, Hillary.

"I think Clinton really does understand the issue, understands it quite deeply, doesn't understand it in just a superficial way,'' said Susan E. Berryman, the director of the Institute on Education and the Economy at Columbia University.

In contrast, many observers contend, Mr. Bush is a latecomer to the whole area of workforce development, who initially failed to back the ideas coming out of his own Labor Department.

And, they say, Mr. Bush's philosophical animosity toward big government has led him to rely on demonstration projects and seed money to spur private investment in worker training, rather than on a more comprehensive policy framework.

That view was contested by Douglas J. Besharov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

"The Administration, from its beginning, has had an important concentration on job-training activities,'' Mr. Besharov said.

"Some people might say it's not sufficient or it's wrongly directed,'' he added, "but the fact of the matter is that substantial energy and attention have been directed toward job-training issues, and they have a strong team at the Department of Labor.''

Arkansas Apprenticeships

As is true of most campaign promises, the proposals put forth by all three candidates are still so general that observers say it is hard to assess their potential impact.

Mr. Clinton's job-training platform has two major components.

He would require companies to spend 1.5 percent of their payrolls on training for workers, or contribute a comparable amount to a government fund that financed such training.

He would also provide $1.5 billion to establish a national system of apprenticeships for noncollege-bound youths.

Although the outlines of his program are sketchy, the Governor's constant references to the European model of apprenticeships--and his belief in an activist government--suggest that he is leaning toward a system in which the federal government would play a strong role in helping to coordinate skills standards and in insuring that the range of apprenticeships covered the full gamut of workforce needs.

In his speeches, Mr. Clinton has also emphasized that on-the-job training for young people should be combined with continued education beyond the secondary level.

The Governor has matched his rhetoric with his record. Last year, Arkansas became one of the first states to pass a statewide youth-apprenticeship bill.

Hillary Clinton has been addressing the need for job training even longer. In 1987, as a board member of the W.T. Grant Foundation, she helped produce "The Forgotten Half: Non-College Youth in America,'' an influential report that focused on the training needs of the noncollege-bound population.

She is also a member of the board of the National Center on Education and the Economy, which in 1990 released another widely cited report, "America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages.''

Mr. Clinton's play-or-pay scheme for worker training is drawn almost directly from the 1990 report. The report also advocated the creation of a comprehensive system of technical and professional certificates and associate's degrees for the majority of students and adult workers who do not pursue a bachelor's degree.

Once the report was completed, Ms. Clinton became the chairwoman of a task force that sought to carry out its recommendations. And Ira Magaziner, the chairman of the commission that produced the report, is one of Mr. Clinton's closest friends and advisers.

Demonstration Projects

The Bush Adminstration first launched six demonstration apprenticeship programs in 1990, at a cost of $3 million. An additional $2.5 million has been slated for the second round of grant competitions this year.

In August, the President proposed expanding the program to provide $500 million in state grants for youth apprenticeships over a five-year period. But it is not clear how the individual state initiatives would be joined into a comprehensive nationwide system.

Mr. Bush first proposed a more limited expansion of the program in May, but the plan sat idle in Congress.

Some observers charge that Mr. Bush's support for youth apprenticeships stems from political expediency, not gut-level convictions. They note that the initial grants competition was held up by the White House and the Office of Management and Budget for more than a year.

Many people credit the progress the Administration has made to James D. VanErden, the director of the Labor Department's office of work-based learning, rather than to White House leadership.

"You can see apprenticeships on the President's campaign,'' Ms. Heald said, "but if you look at actual practice and the full force of Presidential leadership, you have to say that it's been half-hearted.''

'Weak on Linkage'

A number of experts fault Mr. Bush for what they see as inconsistencies in the job-training proposals he has put forward this year.

In January, when Mr. Bush announced his "Job Training 2000'' plan, "he attacked the present training programs and said they are ineffective, they are a mass of confusion,'' noted Sar A. Levitan, the director of the Center for Social Policy Studies at George Washington University.

Part of Mr. Bush's solution was to streamline existing programs and to create a "one-stop-shopping center'' for individuals and employers.

Most observers described the analysis as correct, but the measure itself as a holding pattern that largely reshuffled existing programs and responsibilities.

Marion Pines, the chairwoman of an advisory committee on the Job Training Partnership Act, also criticized the plan as "too weak, if not silent, on the critical education-system linkage...particularly, at the secondary school level.''

Then, in August, Mr. Bush unveiled his "New Century Workforce'' initiative, which would nearly triple funding for the same programs he had previously described as ineffective. The main feature of the program for unemployed adults would be $3,000 vouchers that could pay for training at public or private community colleges and trade schools.

The President vowed that he would finance the increase without raising taxes. "But he did not say from where he'd get the money,'' Mr. Levitan said. "Not only that, but he said that he will tell us after the election.''

Still, analysts praised the New Century Workforce plan as a more substantive proposal than Job Training 2000. In particular, they applauded the suggested expansion of the Job Corps and the emphasis on skills training for all categories of displaced workers.

But Paula Duggan, a senior policy analyst with the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a Washington-based think tank, suggested that even in this area, the Administration has been playing catch-up with the grassroots.

"I think that the Bush Administration was somewhat behind the thinking of other folks in not noticing that the North American Free Trade Agreement was going to necessitate a lot of retraining of dislocated workers,'' she said. "So now, they're coming along with a suggestion in that vein, and I think they need to be applauded, but I'm not sure President Bush has much of a record in this area.''

In the first of the Presidential debates last week, Mr. Bush cited "all the training side'' as an area that James A. Baker 3rd, currently the White House chief of staff, would oversee as the coordinator of domestic and economic policy for a second Bush term.

Setting the Stage

Mr. Perot's stance on job-training issues remains murky. Although he refers to the need for job creation in his campaign plan, "United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country,'' he makes no mention of job training in his book of the same title.

For all three candidates, observers say, a lack of specifics makes it hard to assess their proposals.

Mr. Clinton, for example, does not specify what training employers could count toward their mandatory payroll expenditure. Mr. Levitan argued that employers could easily claim they were spending the required amount without actually increasing their investment.

Mr. Besharov contended, "It is hard to believe that we will enact a 1.5 percent payroll tax.'' Moreover, he said, "The opportunity to mismanage that money is going to be very great.''

At the same time, Mr. Levitan suggested, Mr. Bush's funding proposals have an "air of unreality'' about them. His proposal for expanding the Job Corps, for example, would amount to $8,953 per year per enrollee, compared with the current cost of $20,000 per annual training slot.

As a result of such gaps, some observers worry that none of the candidates is really proposing a comprehensive job-training plan of the level or scope most experts say is needed.

"Neither party has systematically addressed the issue,'' Alan J. Zuckerman, the executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition, said, "but it's being raised by everyone.''

"I'm encouraged that both of the candidates--and even Perot, in his own minimalist way--recognize that there's a need to invest in developing the workforce,'' he continued. "I think there's a stage set for doing something. And that may be more important than the detail.''

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