Training Help It's no secret that U.S. business is facing a shortage of well-qualified workers. Or that many big companies -- with big training budgets -- are launching programs to improve their workers' basic skills. But what can a small company do?

Alone, not much. That's why it's interesting that trade associations are starting to develop and sell industry-specific basic-skills-training materials. The American Bankers Association (ABA) recently became the first to roll out a complete course, and the National Association of Printers and Lithographers has part of its new curriculum available. Both focus on job skills -- for example, the ABA curriculum covers topics like balancing a teller's cash drawer.

Such programs have particular potential to help small companies that can't afford to develop their own programs. The ABA course will be especially accessible because it will be taught through branches of the American Institute of Banking; small banks won't have to find personnel to teach their employees.

Benita Somerfield, president of Simon & Schuster's Workplace Resources Division, hopes other associations will develop similar curricula. "If businesses just go after this problem one at a time," she says, "it's not going to work."

-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf