Challenges Facing The U.s. Vocational Training System

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The challenges facing the U.S. vocational training system today -- low community college completion rates and skill mismatch, in particular -- are the legacy of a long history of conflict between employers, employees, and unions over how to train American workers. If the government tried to address the current challenges without accounting for this history, their policy proposals would likely be impractical and incomplete. Our goal is thus to review the history of vocational training in search for lessons that indicate what policies and programs have the highest probability of success today.

We focus on two persistent historical challenges for American vocational training: balancing employer demands with economic mobility for trainees, and coordinating investment and skills certification between employers, training institutions, trainees, and government. These are the obstacles that any policy will need to work around or overcome. For example, if successful apprenticeship programs have succeeded only where employers’ associations and workers’ groups coordinate training, it is unlikely that a regional or national apprenticeship policy can succeed without buy-in from employers and employees willing to agree on a system of certification and cost-sharing. The two sections below will explore how these challenges arose, why they have persisted, and what they mean for current efforts to reform the vocational training system.

The Purpose of Skill Development

The goals of higher
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