A better way to train workers
Most economists believe that worker-training programs can help Americans who’ve lost their manufacturing jobs to automation, said Derek Thompson. But there’s one big problem: Research has repeatedly shown that job-retraining programs run by Washington “don’t really work.” What does work is the European-style apprenticeship model, in which employees learn a new trade on the job. Yet so far, U.S. companies have resisted investing in such efforts, fearing that workers will simply take their new skills to a rival firm. So if the U.S. government has the money to retrain workers but not the know-how, and companies have the expertise to teach new skills but won’t spend the money, “why not bring them together?” One such proposal, dubbed “pay for performance,” would have the government pay companies for retraining programs as long as workers’ wages go up. Even if a retrained worker leaves, the government will compensate the firm. Of course, it’s possible that the money won’t be enough to keep some companies from choosing to automate or offshore workers. Other firms may try to bilk the system by spending on training that “was going to happen anyway.” But after an election season full of big, grand economic proposals, this approach at least represents affordable tweaks that could realistically save workers’ jobs.