Is vocational training useful?

Training programs funded from national and EU sources and designed to help the unemployed find jobs again have a minimal to non-existent effect, according to a study. «The contribution of the European Union-subsidized Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) investment plan to employment is largely manifested not through the creation of new jobs but in the maintenance of existing ones,» says the interim CSFIII evaluation report, prepared by the consortium Remaco-Eurotec. The report describes as «relatively satisfactory» the progress recorded so far in the «Employment and Vocational Training» program of the 2001-2006 plan. The description, however, is based on an accounting evaluation, referring to fund absorption rate and the ratio of approved disbursement to actual expense. As the evaluation shifts to practical results, the picture changes. «It has not been possible to create effective mechanisms for planning and monitoring results, either for the older training and job subsidy programs or for the new (such as the individualized handling of each unemployed person). Essentially, tenders for training programs continue to be issued without adequate information on labor market requirements and projects are not followed up for their effect on employability. Job subsidies are not accompanied by adequate measurement of results… in many cases, funds are expended (merely) on the conviction that the programs are useful,» notes the report. This finding causes obvious concern for all those involved in the so-called labor training market in recent years; private vocational training center (KEK) directors, ministry officials, government evaluators and experts on Community issues paid for years to assess the impact of programs on the labor market. Most of them seem to mistakenly attribute criticism of the quality of training programs to the involvement of political or business interests. Such allegations cannot be dismissed altogether, and it is not surprising to find the strongest critics among officials well-connected with private interests. The crucial question, however, lies elsewhere: Does attendance in training programs (usually implemented by KEKs) make any significant difference in finding a job? «Previous attendance in a training program lasting at least six months does not seem to help the individual leave unemployment. There is no statistically significant correlation between exiting unemployment and previous attendance in a training program,» says the report. Further, «previous attendance in a program lasting at least six months does not seem to reduce the likelihood of losing a job. Those with such training become unemployed at a rate of 2.9 percent, against 2.5 percent for the total.» Ultimately, it is only higher education degree holders who have a significant likelihood of escaping unemployment. Education, rather than vocational training, seems to provide the best chances for finding a job. «If we analyze statistically the likelihood of someone exiting unemployment, we find that of the three most common educational levels – university, technical college and high school – only university graduates show a statistically significant coefficient and the likelihood of exiting unemployment is appreciably higher than the average. In relation to the average unemployed person, degree holders are almost 8 percent more likely to find a job. In contrast, a technical college degree or high school certificate does not seem to have any significant impact.» According to the report, «those who have previously attended vocational training programs are mainly concentrated among technical school leavers (almost three in four).» The findings have obvious policy implications. Vocational training absorbs a large segment of the 4.24-billion-euro budget of the European Social Fund.