Week #2 of our 30 Issues in 30 Days series focuses on the challenges of paying for government programs. Cristina Quinn examines the debate over the cost and effectiveness of job training.

In downtown Boston, just a short walk from South Station, there’s a career center tucked between an office building and apartments. As soon as you step into JobNet, the first thing you notice are the flyers blanketing the walls and tables, shouting “recruitment” and “hiring now!” JobNet is a One-Stop Career Center in downtown Boston, and like all the other state-run career centers in Massachusetts, it’s a place to file for unemployment insurance and search for a job. And the people at JobNet want you to search for a job while you’re there.

“We say looking for a job is a job,” said Rosemary Alexander, executive director of JobNet.

The services offered at places like JobNet include coaching people on how conduct themselves in interviews, how to do their elevator speech, how to communicate with employers electronically and how to search for jobs on the internet.

You can also find out if you’re eligible for job training funded by the federal government. And that’s what Joao DePina, a 26-year old truck driver, did.

DePina was a custodian in Boston until he was laid off last January. He’d always wanted to get into truck driving — an industry with a large hiring demand right now — but he couldn’t afford the $5000 training program. JobNet helped him enroll in truck driving school, and in a matter of months, he got his commercial driver's license. DePina landed a job in June and he’s been on the road ever since. When we spoke, he was in Wisconsin, waiting for a load to be hoisted onto his truck.

“I used to tell my friends, “You guys pay a ticket to have a vacation in some states, but me — they pay me to get to know the whole country,” DePina said.

DePina is among the 4,100 people in Massachusetts who were retrained by government money. In 1998, a bipartisan effort led to the Workforce Investment Act. But that program is now 14 years old.

Is this the best system that we have?

There are all these misalignments between the policies that were in place — policies that reflect policies and an economy from the 1930s or the 1960s or even the 1990s with what was happening today in the labor market,” said Kathy Krepcio, executive director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Read her study on the workforce system.

“What was happening demographically, economically and also what was happening due to rapid changes in technology. Are these the best policies that we have?” she asked.

Congress is less bipartisan these days. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) proposed a bill to consolidate the dozens of funding streams that go into the Workforce Investment Act, citing too much overlap. Democrats worry this consolidation will result in a drastic reduction of funding.

While Congress is at a stalemate, perhaps a solution lies in something millions of people use every day.

I was reading this story in The New Yorker about the amazing technology and research and thought behind online dating. I mean, there’s amazing research behind it. Why don’t we put the same amount of research behind job matching? Why is it that we can find someone a relationship but we can’t find someone a job using these kinds of sophisticated algorithms? And that’s the kind of stuff I’d like to see the federal government invest some R&D into,” said Krepcio.

But some economists think that the federal government shouldn’t be investing in job training programs at all.

Has technology leapfrogged the federal government?

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the libertarian CATO Institute, says federally funded job programs are ineffective.

“I would look first at individual responsibility,” he said. “Relatively few people who are unemployed actually use federal government job training services.”

Edwards said we can’t afford these programs with a large federal budget deficit, and that it’s a waste of money since the vast majority of people today search online for jobs and use their own resources and networks to find work. “I think partly technology has leapfrogged the federal government. In recent years, there have been about 15 million people unemployed, and 1 million have used those services."

WGBH checked with the Department of Labor, which said that over 8 million people found work through the One-Stop Career Centers in 2011. But one thing not debated is the importance of innovation in technology in retraining our workforce. Massachusetts is making it a priority.

The role of technology in Massachusetts workforce development.

We are working with our regions to figure out the best ways to reduce any cost that isn’t staff or training related,” said Jennifer James, Massachusetts undersecretary of the Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

When it comes to workforce development, success in lower unemployment rates is rewarded with funding cuts. With Massachusetts’ 6.3 percent unemployment rate, it was cut almost $4.6 million for job training. As a result, the state is figuring out other ways to cut corners, such as merging career centers with libraries and public housing.

We’ve got more people walking through the door whether you like it or not. How do you do all that in an environment where there are less dollars?” James said.

Another person who looked for job training help is Anne-Marie Willis-Suer. She had been a secretary at a Boston law firm until she lost her job 18 months ago. With unemployment running out, she turned to JobNet, and received federal funds to retrain as a certified nursing assistant.

“A lot of people who benefited from this. What would have happened to their family if they didn’t have this kind of funding?” Willis-Suer asked. “Because they’re trying, but they’re not getting anywhere in terms of [a] job, and they get this opportunity to try something different and then they become successful in it. I don’t think that’s a waste of funding.”

What’s lost in all this talk of funding and technology is the unspoken value of having a job.

“Work is one of the critical parts of our lives,” said Alexander of JobNet.And everybody benefits from being a contributing part of society. It makes a difference.”

Will the parties' positions on funding job training make a difference for you this November? Vote before you vote.