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Employers, low wage workers missing the value of job training, survey finds

AP-Nord Centre survey says employees aren't taking advantage of on-the-job training because they don't know programs exist.


March 22, 2013
by The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – As they struggle to get ahead, many low-wage workers are not taking advantage of job training or educational programs that could help them make the leap to better-paying jobs, often skeptical about whether such programs are even worth the trouble, a new survey shows.

In many cases, workers in low-wage positions are not using the training programs their employers offer because they don’t even know they exist, the two-part AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of both workers and employers found. Two-thirds of employers said they offer coaching or mentoring programs and 61% provide on-the-job training. But only 36% of low-wage workers reported that their employers offer such programs.

The ability to move up the career ladder has become more important as America’s economic recovery is fueled by a surge in low-wage jobs at restaurants, health care centres and manufacturing sites. Job training and education can play a major role in helping these workers advance their careers and someday reach middle-class status. At the same time, employers say they invest in job training to retain current workers, reduce turnover and improve the quality of products and services.

Yet the surveys revealed a wide disparity between employers and workers in how they view the importance of training programs. While 83% of employers said job training is extremely or very important for upward mobility, only half of low-wage workers felt as strongly about additional training. Similarly, 77% of employers rated education as extremely or very important, while only 41% of low-wage workers rated it similarly.

Of those who were aware their employers offer such training programs, 64% report participating in them, the surveys found. About a quarter have taken advantage of tuition assistance benefits. Yet workers who have used these programs say they are no more likely to feel confident about their prospects for advancement than those who have not received the extra training.

The AP-NORC Center conducted two surveys to gauge the experiences and perspectives of lower-wage workers. A sample of 1,606 workers earning $35,000 or less annually were interviewed last summer, while a companion poll of 1,487 employers of such workers was conducted from November through January.

About 65% of the jobs the US economy added since the recession ended in June 2009 were lower-wage ones, according to an analysis of monthly Labor Department employment numbers by Moody’s Economics.

Low-wage workers are even less apt to use government programs that could help them get new training or find better jobs, according to the survey. Only 18% have used Pell grants, a student aid program, and less than 10 per cent say they have used any other government-funded program, such as one-stop employment centres or welfare-funded training services.

Among employers, 86% say they have never taken part in a government or publicly funded training program, with half of those saying they were not aware of programs aimed at their business sector. And 40% said they weren’t aware of government programs in their area, the surveys showed.

Most employers say their low-wage workers have the necessary skills to perform their jobs now but were not prepared when first hired. These employers are investing in training programs to get workers up to speed, but only about half are confident they can keep these investments going in the future to keep worker skills current.

Only 30% of all workers in this income category report ever having received a promotion from their current employer, and few think they have a good chance of getting one.

The surveys revealed widespread pessimism among low-wage workers, many of whom see themselves as worse off than before the recession and view their jobs as a dead end. Half said they were “not too” or “not at all” confident their current jobs will help them achieve long-term career goals.

Both employers and workers place most of the responsibility for career advancement on the individual worker, with 81% of employers and 78% of workers saying the worker shares a lot or almost all the burden. But 73% of workers and 78% of employers say that employers share at least a moderate amount of the obligation to help workers find better jobs.

By contrast, fewer than half of low-wage workers think federal, state or local government bears more than a little of the responsibility for helping workers move ahead.

©The Associated Press