Retraining Workers Sounds Great. But For What Jobs?

BY busadmin  October 19, 2009 at 3:29 PM EDT

assembly line; via Flickr

Question: Why does nobody discuss the fact that all the working and many middle class jobs have gone to China and the rest of Asia? Retrain workers — great — but retrain them for what?

Paul Solman: You know when I first heard the “retraining for what” question? During the 1992 presidential campaign, doing a story on unemployment. I was asked the question by a ship worker in New London, Connecticut. I didn’t have a succinct answer then; I don’t have one now.

But that’s not because retraining is a bad idea. It’s just that you never really know how the job market is going to evolve, yet most retraining programs are forced to rely on past trends and jobs. As a result, they tend to be behind the times. I might have told the ship worker to retrain for a career in web design, for instance; man, would he have been ahead of the curve! (And I would have looked like a prophet.) Unfortunately, I hadn’t heard of the Internet yet, and neither had most anyone else.

By the way, LOTS of people discuss the migration of jobs to Asia; we ourselves have used a soundbite from a machinist in Connecticut so many times that I remember his name: Ed Landry. The quote: “We went to lunch and our jobs went to China.” (See this segment if you wish to be further depressed.)