Friday, December 18, 2009

Not a silver bullet

Recent local news articles have touted the Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Act as a means for unemployed workers to learn a new trade in the face of plant closures, diminished product demand and the transfer of jobs overseas.

A lesson learned from faraway Caldwell County, N.C. shows us that retraining and retooling isn't the only thing needed to correct unemployment. Caldwell County is to furniture what Youngstown was to steel. Furniture manufacturing was the main source of employment and revenue for County residents. When the Broyhill furniture factory and largest employer in town shifted operations to China several years ago, hundreds of former furniture makers went back to school.

NPR recently focused on two unemployed workers in Caldwell who used TAA and tried to make the leap from building couches and ottomans into the building and programming servers. The story of these two is representative of the struggles of many workers who go through job retraining programs. In the case of Bill Curtis and Margo Rice, once Google opened a server farm 200 yards from the closed furniture factory, they realized that three years of computer training wasn't enough to compete.

A three-part series from 'All Things Considered' first focused on how laid-off workers tried to retrain to enter a 21st century workforce. Part two focuses on the results of that effort and what they have done since. Tonight's segment will take a look at the Chinese labors who took over the furniture jobs.

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