Economists once believed firms do not pay to develop occupational skills that workers could use in other, often competing, firms. Researchers now recognize that most firms benefit from investing in apprenticeship training. Evidence indicates that financial returns to firms vary. Some recoup their investment within the apprenticeship period, while others see their investment pay off only after accounting for reduced turnover, recruitment, and initial training costs. Generally, the first year of apprenticeships involves significant costs, but subsequently, the apprentice’s contributions exceed his/her wages and supervisory costs. Most participating firms view apprenticeships as offering certainty that all workers have the same high level of expertise and ensuring a supply of well-trained workers during sudden increases in demand and to fill leadership positions.
Vocational education, training skills, and lifelong learning
by Jochen Kluve
Reducing youth unemployment and generating more and better youth employment opportunities are key policy challenges worldwide. Active labor market programs for disadvantaged youth may be an effective tool in such cases, but the results have often been disappointing in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The key to a successful youth intervention program is comprehensiveness, comprising multiple targeted components, including job-search assistance, counseling, training, and placement services. Such programs can be expensive, however, which underscores the need to focus on education policy and earlier interventions in the education system.
Youth unemployment has increased in many industrialized countries following the recent global recession. However, this reflects not only the cyclical shock, but also the crucial role of institutions in structuring the transition from school to work. Vocational training, in particular in a dual form combining vocational schooling and structured learning on-the-job, is often considered to be one of the most important policy solutions in combating youth unemployment. The evidence available supports this perception, but the institutional requirements of a successful training system also have to be taken into account from a policy perspective.
The labor market position of older workers is cause for concern in many industrialized countries. Rapid population aging is challenging pension systems. The recent economic crisis has forced many older adults out of the workforce, into either pre-retirement or non-employment. Encouraging people to work longer and fostering the employability of older workers have become priorities for policymakers. Training specifically designed for older workers might help attain these goals, since it may refresh human capital and reduce the pay–productivity gap. Training older workers might also benefit employers and society as a whole.
Workers participating in firm-sponsored training receive higher wages as a result. But given that firms pay the majority of costs for training, shouldn’t they also benefit? Empirical evidence shows that this is in fact the case. Firm-sponsored training leads to higher productivity levels and increased innovation, both of which benefit the firm. Training can also be complementary to, and enhance, other types of firm investment, particularly in physical capital, such as information and communication technology (ICT), and in organizational capital, such as the implementation of high-performance workplace practices.
Although early human capital theory recognized the relevance of workers’ experience, its focus was on education and formal training. Recent studies find that much of the performance of newly hired workers is driven by learning by doing or learning from peers or supervisors in the workplace. Descriptive data show that workers learn a lot from the various tasks they perform on the job. Informal learning at work seems to be relevant for all age groups, although it drives more of the performance of younger workers. Informal learning is far more important for workers’ human capital development than formal training courses.
Temporary work agencies use training as a recruitment and retention argument when qualified labor is scarce. However, short job assignments present a major obstacle for employers and employees to increase investment in training. As temporary agency workers are mainly low-qualified and often previously unemployed, paid work in combination with training should lead to more sustainable employment. Adjustments in labor market institutions could make the provision of training more attractive for both staffing agencies and temporary agency workers.
Measuring workers’ productivity is important for public policy and private-sector decision-making. Due to a lack of reliable methods to determine workers’ productivity, firms often use specific performance measures, such as how different incentives affect employees’ behavior. The public sector also uses these measures to monitor and evaluate personnel, such as teachers. To select the right performance measures, and as a result design better employment contracts and improve productivity, policymakers and managers need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the available metrics.
Time plays an important role in both the design and interpretation of evaluation studies of training programs. While the start and duration of a training program are closely linked to the evolution of job opportunities, the impact of training programs in the short and longer term changes over time. Neglecting these “dynamics” could lead to an unduly negative assessment of the effects of certain training schemes. Therefore, a better understanding of the dynamic relationship between different types of training and their respective labor market outcomes is essential for a better design and interpretation of evaluation studies.
by Bart Cockx
The Great Recession that began in 2008–2009 dramatically increased youth unemployment. But did it have long-lasting, adverse effects on the careers of youths? Are cohorts that graduate during a recession doomed to fall permanently behind those that graduate at other times? Are the impacts different for low- and high-educated individuals? If recessions impose penalties that persist over time, then more government outlays are justified to stabilize economic activity. Scientific evidence from a variety of countries shows that rigid labor markets can reinforce the persistence of these setbacks, which has important policy implications.
The objective of providing vocational training for the unemployed is to increase their chances of re-employment and human capital accumulation. In comparison to mandatory course assignment by case workers, the awarding of vouchers increases recipients’ freedom to choose between different courses and makes non-redemption a possibility. In addition, vouchers may introduce market mechanisms between training providers. However, empirical evidence suggests that voucher allocation mechanisms prolong the unemployment duration of training participants. But, after an initial period of deterioration, better long-term employment opportunities are possible.
Skills are widely regarded as being necessary for boosting productivity, stimulating innovation, and creating new jobs, while skill mismatches are often cited as being responsible for a lack of dynamism in the labor market. However, heavy investments in technical and vocational training programs are seldom a “silver bullet.” Recent evidence on skill building not only points to the core importance of foundational skills (both cognitive and social) for success in the labor market, but also emphasizes how jobs themselves can lead to learning and shape social competencies that, in turn, ignite innovation and create more jobs.