Part of our October series on Jobs & The Economy, featuring written op-ed pieces and Q&As with Delaware’s business, labor and government leaders.
In the fight to put people back to work, a lot of hand-wringing has taken place at the federal level between the triumverate of Big Finance, Big Government and Big Business. And despite all of the talk and all of the infighting, people still can’t find work. Down in the laboratory of government – the states – some promising initiatives have sprouted, giving at least the appearance of progress. None more so than GeorgiaWorks, which has drawn praise from people as diverse as Jesse Jackson and Rep. Eric Cantor. According to the Georgia Department of Labor, here’s how GeorgiaWorks operates:
The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) provides a stipend and workers compensation coverage to participating job seekers. Employers pay nothing to these trainees. GW provides employers the opportunity to train and appraise candidates at no cost. There is no obligation to hire any given trainee, but there must be a current vacancy listed with the GDOL.
So, in other words, people currently receiving unemployment benefits get paired with employers for up to eight weeks of training (up to 24 hours per week). The workers are compensated through their unemployment checks and a $240 stipend to help cover transportation, child care and other expenses. And there are signs of success. Georgia reports that approximately one-quarter of the more than 30,000 workers placed in the GeorgiaWorks program end up employed, with over 15% being hired by the company they are placed with.
Critics claim that the program merely gives businesses free labor subsidized by the taxpayer, that too many of the placed workers end up doing remedial and clerical work, and that too many of the trainees who do get jobs end up in low-paid positions. Setting aside those criticisms, President Obama has included a modified version of the program in his jobs bill.
Could It Work Here?
The prospect of such a program working in Delaware is promising. Many of our unemployed come from industries such as construction and manufacturing, where jobs simply vanished and have not returned. Allowing these capable and hardworking people the chance to learn on-the-job would be a boon both to the worker and to the business.
Simply putting people in the workplace allows for interaction and discovery, and introduces new skills to workers who are otherwise trained. More interestingly, in certain circumstances, it introduces the workplace to ideas it wouldn’t otherwise see (emphasis added):
At Georgia State University, however, the story is different. Georgia State has hired 37 workers through the program, out of 54 who have begun trial periods. But the overseers of the program there acknowledged that for many, the program was more valuable as a foot in the door than as a learning experience. One auditioner was so proficient at Microsoft Access that she showed her prospective bosses how to improve their system. She was hired.
In fact, this exposure of workplace to worker and vice-versa should be paramount, and is far preferable to leaving people on unemployment and out on their own to tackle a frustrating job search.
With the tens of millions of dollars that we’re throwing around to seemingly every unproven green tech company in the country, certainly we could reduce our risk by using some of that money instead to place individual people in business environments. The alchemy that is created with that magical pairing of worker and workplace is certain to bear fruit.
In fact, much of the reason for the stall in economic activity is the uncertainty that businesses face — uncertainty over government action, uncertainty over tax rates, uncertainty over future demand, and more. A program like GeorgiaWorks allows employers to ignore the uncertainty of the market and the risks of bringing on another employee by allowing both employer and employee to “test drive” the work environment before making a full-time commitment. Provided that the program regulate the worker’s activity so as to avoid those who would take advantage of the program simply for free labor, I see no reason why a similar program should not be implemented in the near future in Delaware.