- More than 50% of employees in a survey conducted by Paul Osterman, professor of human resources and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, said they have access to employer-provided training, but "considerable disparities" exist.
- Hispanic workers were "consistently and significantly disadvantaged," per the research, while African American workers also received less training than White workers, "although the patterns for [African American workers] do not always reach standard levels of significance." Workers who attained a high school education or lower received less training, while those with a college degree received more.
- Contract-worker respondents also received less training than those with standard employment arrangements, Osterman noted in a separate working paper. Because the survey of 3,648 working adults was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Osterman said these training disparities may have worsened, according to MIT Sloan.
A running thread throughout the paper concerns what Osterman characterized as a lack of recent data on the state of training in the U.S. labor market. He noted that the most recent nationally representative survey to contain questions regarding employer-based training, the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation, did not distinguish between formal and informal training nor between different employment statuses.
In recent years, research from training-focused nonprofit organizations and think tanks has highlighted racial and ethnic disparities in education broadly. For example, a 2019 report from the National Skills Coalition found that "middle-skill" jobs, which require education beyond high school short of a traditional, four-year college degree, made up more than half of the U.S. labor market. But U.S.-born Black and Latino individuals were less likely than their White and Asian Pacific Islander counterparts to have attained an associate's degree or higher.
Osterman found that although employees may seek self-directed training outside of what is provided by their employers, "patterns among standard employees and contract company employees suggest that self-directed training reinforces disparities rather than compensating for them."
Stakeholders face two challenges in encouraging employers to provide more training, Osterman continued. The first concerns employer reluctance to invest in training for fear of talent leaving. The second concerns "flat" job structures that limit opportunities for employees to benefit from training. Unionization and expansion of the public job training system could make up for disparities, Osterman said, but stakeholders could also work to build internal career ladders for lower ranking employees.
"If you're a manufacturing firm or a biotech firm and you need technicians, if there's frontline workers out there who are not at that level yet, you could train them up into those technician jobs," Osterman said in a statement. "But if you're just kind of ignoring those people with respect to who you train, you're kind of shooting yourself in the foot."
In previous interviews, training leaders who spoke to HR Dive pointed to external partnerships with public and private organizations, such as educational institutions, as a means of increasing equitable access to training. Others advocated for restructuring mentorship and sponsorship programs to diversify leadership pipelines down the road.