Do career trainings have a displacement effect also in science?

In times of crisis, governments pull out programs to get more people into work. Often, these programs consist of or include teaching people how to “sell” themselves better, for example though job interview trainings with professional actors, or by giving CV advice.

It sounds of course nice to help people find a job, but I have been wondering before: assuming that jobs are limited and all jobs are filled anyway, isn’t training some people for performing better at job interviews just displacing unemployment, i.e. giving some people a better chance but thereby increasing the competition for those that didn’t get the same training, thus reaching little at the expense of considerable societal resources? It turns out that this is exactly what a new study around Crépon et al. finds with a quite impressive dataset:

This paper reports the results from a randomized experiment designed to evaluate the direct and indirect (displacement) impacts of job placement assistance on the labor market outcomes of young, educated job seekers in France. We use a two-step design. In the first step, the proportions of job seekers to be assigned to treatment (0%, 25%, 50%, 75% or100%) were randomly drawn for each of the 235 labor markets (e.g. cities) participating in the experiment. Then, in each labor market, eligible job seekers were randomly assigned to the treatment, following this proportion. After eight months, eligible, unemployed youths who were assigned to the program were significantly more likely to have found a stable job than those who were not. But these gains are transitory, and they appear to have come partly at the expense of eligible workers who did not benefit from the program, particularly in labor markets where they compete mainly with other educated workers, and in weak labor markets. Overall, the program seems to have had very little net benefits.

I have been wondering the same regarding science career training activities – public advice that is available to everyone seems to me a good thing. Blog posts such as this make things like grant applications or job interviews more fair, because everyone has access to the same information. However, at “ask the editor” sessions or grant application courses at scientific conferences, or at University in-house training events, tax-payer financed experts essentially teach a select group of researchers how to increase their chances to apply for tax-payer financed grants, at the expense of other researchers. These kind of events create a privileged group with no apparent selection criterion, and it seems unlikely that this create a surplus of net societal benefit compared to a simple Q&A site or video on the journal or grant website that is available to all.

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