How Dream-Team Teachers Can Help the Long-Term Unemployed

More than 4 million people have been out of a job and searching for more than a year. Could an online education program taught by the nation's most transformational instructors save them?

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This week's Working it Out question was: "Should anything be done to help the long-term unemployed? If so, what would be your #1 recommendation"

Your comments ranged from: Let 'em fend for themselves to Create government jobs for them!

I'd like to propose a third way. As I wrote in introducing this week's Working it Out question, a New York Times review of job retraining programs said: "For all the popularity of these government-financed programs, there are questions about whether they actually work." But I'm wondering whether, rather than abandoning them, what's required is a new approach to them.

Obviously, job training's effectiveness depends on who's doing the teaching. And training effectively isn't easy. Even courses at brand-name universities often don't generate great growth even in Ivy-caliber students. Think back to how few transformative instructors you had. And consider the frighteningly poor national freshman-to-senior growth. It would be much more difficult still to recruit thousands of instructors capable of transforming the nation's long-term unemployed, into the long-term well-employed -- in a new field, no less. After all, they'll have to compete with many other applicants who are or have been employed in that field and who don't have that huge resume gap indicating they've been passed-over by umpteen employers.

An answer may be in what I call dream-team-taught courses taught online. Imagine if we asked a handful of the nation's proven most transformative instructors of the long-term unemployed to create and deliver an online job retraining course, say in communication skills. Then each of those instructors, paired with a computer programmer who specializes in interactive instruction, would create immersive, simulation-centric lessons. The resulting course would be made available free to all long-term unemployed people and perhaps to others.

That way all students from Maine to California, Harlem to Beverly Hills, would -- instead of the usual mix of great, good, and bad instructors -- receive world-class job retraining at a fraction of the cost of live instructors. Some of the savings could be used to provide a live person at, for example, local unemployment offices, for the human touch.

Of course, even with a dream-team of instructors, the course content must be right. And the content of most previous job retraining programs has been wrong. They've attempted to predict the fields likely to stay hot enough to justify telling the long-term unemployed: Study this for a year or so and you'll probably end up well-employed for a long time.

It's tough to predict which fields will stay hot. After all, 10 years ago, we screamed that we needed nurses, but by the time the next cohort of nurses were recruited and trained, hospitals had long since imported nurses, notably from the Philippines. Two years ago, we screamed, "solar installers!" Already, there's an oversupply.

Presented by

Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley specializing in the evaluation of innovation. His columns have appeared in the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle, and his sixth book, just published, is How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School. More

Marty Nemko was called "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently taught in its graduate school. His columns and features have appeared in U.S. News, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. The archive of his hundreds of published articles, his blog, plus chapters from his book, Cool Careers for Dummies, plus mp3s of his KALW-FM (NPR-San Francisco) show are on www.martynemko.com.

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