They should, but unfortunately not.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, a Federal program for displaced manufacturing workers, was found to have only 37% of its program members working in the field of work they were retrained for. (Click link here.) Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind Program found that one-third of its members remained unemployed after the program, similar to the 40% unemployment rate of their peers who did not enroll. (Click link here.) About half of all Michigan workers who left the workforce between 2003 and 2013 went on disability and were not retrained for a new job.
Many of the workers who are most at risk for displacement are middle-aged and past their primes. Many have health problems. Retraining will be difficult and many employers will prefer to hire younger employees with lower job requirements.
The goalposts are now moving – by the time someone goes through a retraining program, the job they were retrained for could have changed or been automated. Technology is going to get better and better. It will also be hard to keep track of who merits retraining. If a mall closes, do the retail workers get retrained? How about a call center?
Though training programs are a great idea, we should acknowledge that we’re historically very bad at it even when we know displacement is happening. Retraining a massive population over a range of industries is unrealistic and won’t address the displacement caused by new technologies.