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The Boston Globe

Business

Low-wage workers missing out on training

WASHINGTON — As they struggle to get ahead, many low-wage workers are not taking advantage of job training or educational programs that could help them make the leap to better jobs. They are often skeptical about whether such programs are even worth the trouble, a survey shows.

In many cases, workers are not using programs their employers offer because they don’t know they exist, the two-part AP-NORC Center for Public ­Affairs Research survey of both workers and employers found.

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Two-thirds of employers said they offer coaching or mentoring, and 61 percent provide on-the-job training. But only 36 percent of low-wage workers reported that their employers offer such programs.

The ability to move up the career ladder has become more important as the economic recovery is fueled by a surge in low-wage jobs at restaurants, health care centers, and manufacturing sites. Job training and education can play a major role in helping workers advance. At the same time, employers say they invest in training to retain workers, cut turnover, and improve the quality of products and services.

Yet the surveys revealed a wide disparity in how workers and employers view the importance of training programs. While 83 percent of employers said training is extremely or very important for upward mobility, only half of low-wage workers felt as strongly. Similarly, 77 percent of employers rated education as extremely or very important, while 41 percent of workers did so.

Of those who were aware their employers offer training , 64 percent report participating, the surveys found. About a quarter have taken advantage of tuition assistance benefits. Yet workers who have used these programs say they are no more likely to feel confident about their prospects for advancement than those who have not received training.

The AP-NORC Center conducted two surveys to gauge the experiences and perspectives of lower-wage workers. A sample of 1,606 workers earning $35,000 or less annually were interviewed last summer, while a companion poll of 1,487 employers of such workers was conducted from November through January.

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Eve Weinbaum, director of the Labor Relations and Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, said most of the research shows that for the vast majority of low-wage workers ‘‘there is not much chance that job training will lead to better jobs and higher incomes, simply because the higher-paying jobs are not there.’’

Low-wage workers are even less apt to use government programs that could help them get new training or find better jobs, according to the survey.

Most employers say low-wage workers have the necessary skills to perform their jobs now but were not prepared when first hired. These employers are investing in training to get workers up to speed, but only about half are confident they can keep these investments going in the future to keep worker skills current.

Only 30 percent of workers in this income category report ever receiving a promotion from their current employer.

Both employers and workers place most of the responsibility for career advancement on the individual worker, with 81 percent of employers and 78 percent of workers saying the worker shares a lot or almost all the burden. But 73 percent of workers and 78 percent of employers say that employers share at least a moderate amount of the obligation to help workers find better jobs.

The surveys were sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, the Hitachi Foundation, and NORC at the University of Chicago.

The worker survey was conducted online and by phone Aug. 1-Sept. 6. The employer survey was conducted online and by phone from Nov. 12 through Jan. 31. The margin of sampling error for the survey of workers was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points; for employers, it was 4.5 points.

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