WASHINGTON: With the economy slowly reviving, an executive from Atlas Van Lines recently visited Louisville, Kentucky, with good news: The company wanted to hire more than 100 truck drivers ahead of the summer moving season.
But a usually reliable source of workers, the local government-financed job centre, could offer little help, as the federal money local officials had designated to help train drivers was already exhausted.
Without government help, many of the people who would be interested in applying for the driving jobs could not afford the US$4,000 (S$5,050) classes to obtain a commercial driver's licence.
Now, Atlas is struggling to find eligible drivers.
Across the country, workforce centres that assist the unemployed are being asked to do more with less as federal funds dwindle for job training and related services.
In Seattle, for example, the region's seven centres provided training for less than 5per cent of the 120,000 people who came in last year seeking to burnish their skills. And in Dallas, officials say they have annual funds left to support only 43 people in training programmes, nowhere near enough to help the 23,500 people who have lost their jobs in the last 10 weeks alone.
The Labour Department announced on Friday that employers had added only 120,000 new jobs last month, a disappointing gain after three previous months of nearly twice that level. But with 12.7 million people still searching for jobs, the country is actually spending less on workforce training than it did in good times.
Federal money for the primary training programme for dislocated workers is 18 per cent lower in today's dollars than it was in 2006, even though there are six million more people looking for work.
Political fights have focused primarily on extensions of unemployment insurance, while the cuts in funds for training have passed with little debate.
At its peak in 2000, the federal government was spending more than US$2.1 billion a year in today's dollars for training programmes aimed at dislocated workers under the Workforce Investment Act.
Stimulus funds added close to US$1.5 billion over two years, but now annual spending has receded to about US$1.2 billion.
The cuts 'make it harder to meet employers' needs', said Mr Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks, which oversees four government-financed job centres in Louisville.
Employers who want to hire often complain that the jobless do not have the necessary skills. In such an environment, advocates for workers say cutting funds for training and other services makes little sense.
'We should be spending significantly more than we were spending five years ago,' said Mr Andy Van Kleunen, executive director of the National Skills Coalition, a non-profit group that promotes investment in training. 'And even then, we would not be catching up to the demand.'