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The new jobs report, out today, shows a sharp drop in the unemployment rate. But millions of Americans are, of course, still looking for work. Often, the bridge between them and a good job is a training program to help give them a new set of skills. Programs to retrain America's workforce got quite a bit of attention in Wednesday's presidential debate, and NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on one of them here in Washington.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: By her own admission, Donna Jackson hasn't been an ideal job candidate. She's a high school graduate, with a spotty work history and a drug habit she kicked last year. So until she started a training program, she hadn't had much luck in job interviews.
DONNA JACKSON: I didn't know what to say and how to say it, and that's something they're really teaching me in here today.
NOGUCHI: And what would you say, that you wouldn't have said before?
JACKSON: (LAUGHTER) Hi, how are you today? My name is Donna Jackson, and I'll tell you everything about me - give you my background, what school I went to, what I'm eager to learn, and what I can bring to the table.
NOGUCHI: For the first time in her 48 years, Jackson says she feels in control over a budding career. Every weekday, she dresses in nurse's scrubs and attends all-day classes sponsored by a Washington, D.C., nonprofit called So Others Might Eat, or SOME. In five months, she hopes to graduate, certified to become a medical assistant - which is not to say, this all comes easily to her.
What's the thing that you struggle with the most?
JACKSON: The medical terminology. I just got to get it down pat. I'm learning it, though.
NOGUCHI: Give me an example of a medical term you just learned.
JACKSON: Oh, no. (LAUGHTER) Like, dermatology is for the skin...
NOGUCHI: Emily Price is director of SOME's program, which includes everything from social-worker support to post-placement counseling for its graduates.
EMILY PRICE: They actually will ride the elevator up and down, and do an elevator pitch. We might have Skype set up in the back, and someone up here, so they get the experience of - sort of that Web interview.
NOGUCHI: SOME works with local employers to design the curriculum for their two programs: building maintenance and medical-assistant training. It is a big time commitment; on average, students take six months to graduate. But they do so with an industry-recognized certification, and some on-the-job training, under their belt. And because the programs are only in fields where workers are in demand, three-quarters of them find work. And the vast majority of those remain in their jobs for at least a year.
These features - industry cooperation, apprenticeship and ongoing social support - are what experts say make for an effective training model. Carl Van Horn is director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, at Rutgers. According to his recent survey, only 14 percent of laid-off workers get any kind of training.
CARL VAN HORN: What the long-term unemployed need is, they need to prepare for a new career - because they're not going to get a new job, in most instances, in the career they were in before.
NOGUCHI: But of course, that kind of training is both more expensive and time-intensive than most existing programs, which function as job-placement services. Van Horn says SOME's training program offers a good example of the kind of training that's increasingly popular. Jane Oates is assistant secretary for employment and training, at the Department of Labor.
JANE OATES: We think it's a great model. And I should really point out to you that all training is not equal. So that - the training that's very laser-focused, based on the needs of an employer, is the most effective training.
NOGUCHI: But Oates says resources are a big issue. Federal spending on training hasn't kept up with the surge in demand. Oates says the Labor Department is trying to better target the limited funds it does have. For example, it now only funds programs that can issue industry-recognized credentials, which are proven to make workers more employable. Twenty-one-year-old Keeshan Khadoo hopes that is true. He spent the last few years cobbling together part-time retail jobs before landing at SOME.
KEESHAN KHADOO: Something I can invest, and grow, in. You wouldn't really get that, like - with like, a part-time job. I mean, you might be able to get like, a small promotion here and there; maybe like, a manager position. But that's nothing compared to, you know, when you have the certification from here, and you're actually able to get into an organization and move up through the ranks, you know? It's a lot different, and it's a lot more inspirational.
NOGUCHI: Khadoo says his goal is to parlay a certification as a medical assistant, into the growing field of medical record-keeping.
KHADOO: My dream job? Just working for, like, a really big organization, like so - pretty much being a company's IT guy. IT - that's what I do.
NOGUCHI: He hopes to graduate - with a job offer - in November. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.