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20 Mar. 2014 | Comments (0)

In his State of the Union speech last night President Obama called for an “across-the-board reform of America’s training programs” and said, “We know how to do it.”

We agree with him: Regional and industry-specific programs already in place around the country provide successful models. In our December 2012 HBR article “Who Can Fix the Middle-Skills Gap?”we summarized the key ingredients that research on these programs has shown to be essential to their success:

     Multiple employers in the region or industry sector cooperate with one another and with educational and labor institutions to design and fund initiatives to train and hire graduates.

      Classroom education is integrated with opportunities to apply new concepts and skills in actual or simulated work settings — an approach proven to be the way adults learn best.

     Training focuses on offering workers career pathways, not just skills for the initial jobs.

These programs take a variety of forms.  Some like the highly successful like the Center for Energy Workforce Development are joint union-management initiatives. Some like the NCBioImpact consortium in North Carolina (formerly BioWorks) rely heavily on community colleges. And others like MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations are university-industry joint ventures.

Regardless of their specific form or workforce targets, the best thing the federal government can do to help expand such programs to meet the need for skilled workers is to make the funding it provides contingent on demonstrating that these three features are in place.


This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 1/29/2014.

View our complete listing of Learning & Development blogs.

  • About the Author:Thomas Kochan

    Thomas Kochan

    Thomas A. Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a codirector of the Institute for Work and Employment Research. His article in the …

    Full Bio | More from Thomas Kochan

  • About the Author:David Finegold

    David Finegold

    David Finegold is the senior vice president for lifelong learning and strategic growth at Rutgers University.

    Full Bio | More from David Finegold

  • About the Author:Paul Osterman

    Paul Osterman

    Paul Osterman is the Nanyang Technological University Professor of Human Resources and Management at MIT's Sloan School.

    Full Bio | More from Paul Osterman


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