Category Archives: Job Training

Less obvious things that impact human services during the coronavirus pandemic

The news about coronavirus focuses rightly on life and death and the struggles of hospitals, as well the need for social distancing and the suspensions of large gatherings. Emergency measures that last for a few weeks are one thing, but it looks like this crisis may continue for several months. While the media is generally doing a good job of crisis coverage, some aspects of particular interest to nonprofit human services providers are being narrowly covered at best.

For example, arrests by the LAPD are dropping, and many court systems are deferring or dismissing non-felony cases, since no one wants coronavirus to rip through jails. It’s hard to say what lowered policing and low-level case dismissal means: maybe many arrests were bogus in the first place. But maybe they weren’t, and we’re likely going to see substantially increased crime as people adjust to this new normal—most big city cops aren’t arresting people, even for such fairly serious crimes as burglary and car break-ins. It’s also possible that petty crime—and even crime in general—will decline because would-be criminals are at home and either don’t want to get coronavirus themselves, or they know most people are holed up at home, and many of those holed up at home are armed. It’s beyond the purview of our knowledge and subject matter to discuss this in detail, but there’s also a lively debate about whether most crime is premeditated versus simply persons seeing what they perceive as opportunity and then acting on it.

Some incarcerated persons are already being released early; released arrestees and, more importantly, recently released prisoners need something productive to do and to earn legitimate income—which usually means case-managed job training and placement of some kind. We’ve written many funded proposals for services for ex-offenders and, even in good times, this is not an easy population to work with. The unemployment rate is likely 10% and may spike as high as 20% in the coming months, further complicating matters. In the short term, however, there’ll be huge need, and likely lots of grant money available, to provide these services. Training and placement, alway challenging, will be hard, given social distancing, but some nonprofits have to try, perhaps with sufficient social distancing measure and/or tele-case management.

Another issue: thousands of 12-Step Program meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous, are being cancelled—and these programs are based mostly on in-person peer support. Behavioral health provides will have to suspend in-person individual and group sessions, leaving millions more with SUD/OUD and/or severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) more or less on their own. Add the incredible stressors of job/income loss, stay-at-home orders, and the like to addiction and mental health issues, and a huge human toll is likely. We’ve seen estimates that 10% of the US population has mental health or substance abuse challenges that are mitigated by in-person support. Most people don’t get the same effects from digital communications tools that we do from in-person interaction. Still, this is an opportunity for nimble nonprofits to seek foundation and government grants to establish or scale-up tele-behavioral health services.

Lots of people have realized that shuttered movie theaters may never recover; fewer people are thinking openly about what we ought to be doing with the most vulnerable persons who are facing serious disruptions, on top of the obvious coronavirus disruptions.

DOL’s “America’s Promise Job Driven Grant Program” Shows The Transition from Green Jobs to H-1B Jobs

I’m writing a Department of Labor (DOL) America’s Promise Job Driven Grant Program proposal this weekend. There’s nothing remarkable about that, except that a close reading of the RFP reveals that the DOL has completely abandoned their interest in “green jobs” (this is somewhat odd, given that the DOL’s fascination with green jobs happened before solar panels, for example, really took off, and before commercial home electricity storage got going). The new job training kids on the block are “H-1B industries and occupations.”

Those of you outside of the tech industry may be wondering what that means. “H-1B” refers to a type of visa that allows non-US residents to enter the US temporarily to work in occupations for which there are supposedly not enough qualified American workers. While H-1B visas cover a plentitude of occupations, for purposes of this post, we’ll just think about them as tech-related jobs like engineers, coders, scientists, Flux Capacitor mechanics, and so on.

Almost every DOL RFP these days is full of H-1B references, and so are other federal proposals related to job training. But if we take a trip in Doc Brown’s souped up DeLorean back to 2009, we’d encounter a very different job training landscape.

For those of you who been on Tatooine or playing Pokemon Go for the last few years, 2009 was the height of the Great Recession and the start of the Stimulus Bill, or, as we called it, the Grant Writers Full Employment Act. Most of this $900 million of orgasmic Federal spending was directed at job training and workforce development in some way. Virtually every Federal job training RFP from 2008 to 2011 required training in green jobs. The problem was that no one, including us, actually knew what a green job was, so we just made it up. This worked, since the Federal program officers also weren’t sure what constituted a green job. We wrote a lot about weatherization, “smart windows,” and energy efficiency.

Most people would agree that Elon Musk’s Gigafactory supports electric vehicles and therefore the engineers and robot technicians housed there work in green jobs. Still, the factory will need janitors and cafeteria workers, and they might actually outnumber the engineers. Are the janitors and cafeteria workers green workers? While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) eventually came up with a green job definition, the definition was so vague as to be meaningless—perfect for grant writers.

Still, this no longer matters much, because Congress and Federal bureaucrats are a fickle bunch and green jobs have mostly disappeared from RFPs. Instead, we’re on to H1-B occupations. Fortunately for grant writers, other than requiring at least a baccalaureate, the US Citizen and Immigration Services’ H-1B jobs definition isn’t any more specific that the BLS definition of green jobs.

In DOL job training grant land, however, one doesn’t actually train people to qualify as H-1B workers, since there isn’t enough time or money for trainees to get a four-year degree. Plus, four-year engineering degrees have steep dropout curves and are tough to get. Most of those targeted by DOL programs don’t have the prerequisites for those kinds of degrees. Instead, DOL-funded training is for precursor jobs requiring a certificate or credential of some sort that might lead the person to completing a four-year degree and actually working in a H-1B job—some day.

The job training RFPs these days, and the workforce development proposals we write, have no more to to with H-1B jobs than, for example, the funded $1 million Department of Energy grant to train “weatherization specialists” we wrote in 2009 had to do with green jobs. These RFPs are primarily walkin’ around money for job training providers.

Almost no one knows what education really means and the TRIO Talent Search program

In “As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short,” Motoko Rich says that “the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower.” It’s a fascinating story and an older one than Rich lets on: In November 1991, before we had Facebook to distract us and the Internet as a scapegoat, Daniel J. Singal wrote about “The Other Crisis in American Education.” In that crisis, we learn of “the potentially high achievers whose SAT scores have fallen, and who read less, understand less of what they read, and know less than the top students of a generation ago.” Is that true? It’s hard to say. Many of 1991’s students are now tech visionaries and writers and parents themselves. I haven’t seen strong evidence that today’s 45 year olds are substantially dumber than 1991’s, or 1971’s.

What we can say definitively, however, is that schooling consists of at least two parts. Part of schooling is widely and conventionally discussed: It imparts real skills that students eventually need to lead productive and satisfied lives. The other part is less often discussed: Schooling functions as a signal of intrinsic conscientiousness, intelligence, conformity, and so forth. Bryan Caplan is writing a book called The Case Against Education about how the signaling model either dominates in education or has come to dominate in education.* The signaling model can explain Rich’s article because schools find teaching reading, writing, math, epistemology, and motivation much, much harder than they find giving people degrees.

Real education is also quite hard to impart because students resist it. I know because I’ve been teaching college-level writing for eight years. I’ve read a quote attributed to various writers that goes, “When a writer asks for feedback, what he really wants to be told is, ‘It’s perfect. Don’t change a word.'” That of course is rarely how writing works. When students show up to class, they by and large want to be told, “You’re perfect as you are. Don’t change a thing.” That is rarely true, but showing it to be true in a way that builds skill and that might be accepted is hard.

Giving people degrees, on the other hand, is easy.

This topic is particularly germane because the Department of Education (ED) just released a new Talent Search RFP. We’ve written about Talent Search before, in posts like “Sign Me Up for Wraparound Supportive Services, But First Tell Me What Those Are.” The goal of Talent Search, and other Department of Education TRIO programs, is to get low-income and first-generation college students to attend and ultimately graduate from four-year institutions of higher educations (IHEs, which is ED-speak for a college or university that confers four-year degrees).

But it’s increasingly unclear that “college” automatically adds a huge amount to earnings. America has a rapidly growing number of waiters, Uber/Lyft drivers, bartenders, baristas, barbers, and other service-sector workers who have college degrees employed in jobs that don’t require a degree. One widely noted report from the the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that “About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education.” That is … distressing. Or depressing. Whatever it means to you, it is definitely true that a large cohort of college grads spend years doing things that may be fun but aren’t all that remunerative, often accumulating huge debts along the way.

The ED remains somewhat behind the education research frontier. At the ED, college degrees continue to inspire near-religious devotion. We don’t suggest that you tell the ED in your Talent Search proposal that college degrees aren’t magical. As a grant applicant, you may want to cite the research above, but only to explain how your proposed Talent Search program is so sophisticated that you’re aware of the research showing that “college” is a grab-bag of all kind of things, many of which are either signals or which don’t pay off for degree holders. Can a random Talent Search program overcome the problems of correlation and causation implied by the ideas I’ve cited above? I doubt it. But there’s no reason you can’t say you can. There is a time and a place to discuss real education and the real world. Your Talent Search application isn’t it.


* Watch this space for a review when it does appear.

Links: Bread Bags and Poverty, the App World, College, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

* When Bread Bags Weren’t Funny, or, we are now spectacularly rich in ways that rarely make the news.

* “Is Snapchat Really Confusing, or Am I Just Old? A 32-year-old’s hopeless quest to understand America’s fastest-growing social app.” This describes me, and I too remember old people telling me when I was younger about life before computers and so on, “What’s the point?”

* Dubious, polemical, yet: “Today’s Apps Are Turning Us Into Sociopaths.” See also Facebook and cellphones might be really bad for relationships.”

* “Why college isn’t always worth it: A new study suggests the economic return on a college degree may be a lot more modest than you think.” This better matches anecdotal yet seemingly universal observation, and it better matches work like that in Paying for the Party. The more I learn about college and about pre-school education the more skeptical I am of either as panaceas.

* What life is like for non-sports fans; a shockingly good metaphor.

* “American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist.”

* College students use social media to be anti-social.

* Cops murder a guy on camera.

* “Orchestra in Los Angeles gives disadvantaged youth a lifeline through music.” Never before has such a project been tried!

* “Meet the [Washington State] Sex Workers Who Lawmakers Don’t Believe Exist,” from The Stranger and probably SFW.

* Employers want better technical writers but aren’t getting them.

* “Why GM Hired 8,000 Programmers.”

* “Lesbian” takes testosterone, sees personality and ideology change. This is not the piece’s actual title.

* Robots aren’t yet taking all our jobs because there aren’t enough smart human engineers to operate them. Which is too bad: the future in which we have all our material needs met and can spend all our time making art.

* “Scientists know there are more giant craters in Siberia, but are nervous to even study them,” which may be the most important article you’re going to skip.

Vaporware, the Media, and the Dept. of Labor’s “Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training” (TAACCCT) Grant Program

The Associated Press is bringing vaporware, an annoying feature of the tech world, to grants: in “Obama, Biden announce $600M for competitive job grants,” an anonymous AP reporter manages to spend 746 words blathering on about job training grants (a topic almost as dear to our hearts as shocking celebrity nudes is to Us Weekly), but the reporter doesn’t manage to learn or say the obvious: name of the program. All that the reporter manages is “Applications were to be available starting Wednesday and due by July 7.”

Which is completely wrong.

Fortunately, the Department of Labor’s website has a little more detail in their exhaustively headlined story, “$450M in US Labor Department grants available to expand job-driven training partnerships between community colleges and employers,” but the DOL says that the program is called “Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training”—which readers of our e-mail grant newsletter ought to already recognize at TAACCCT. (The DOL pronounces it “tacit,” though we sometimes use more colorful pronunciations.)

More fortunately still, Grants.gov actually rode to the rescue with the full SGA today: “Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants Program.” There are 50 grants available with grants to $20,000,000.

If you’re a community college and reading this notice, you want to apply for this program. Pity that you won’t learn as much from the popular press reporting. There are some mildly better articles—like Maya Rhodan’s in Time—but most of what you see in the media about TAACCT is garbage.

EDIT: The last TAACCCT reference we can find is from 2011, when it appeared in our e-mail newsletter; that year even had $500 million available, but the RFP for this year actually says $450 million available.