IEDC: Is the skills gap an illusion?

Educators are failing students because they aren’t training them in the skills needed to fill open jobs: This is the commonly accepted narrative surrounding the “skills gap,” and the explanation for why companies are slow to hire even though plenty are looking for work. The Pew Charitable Trusts has taken a microscope to the issue of slow hiring in the United States in a three-part series called “Help Wanted: Why Willing Workers Aren’t Filling Open Jobs.” The skills gap is dissected in part one, challenging the idea that more training is the solution to employers’ hiring woes. Several alternate explanations are put forward:

1. Employers are too picky: Some are holding out for a fully trained worker with previous experience in a similar positions (but employers are unwilling or unable to pay enough to secure these individuals).

2. Many vacant jobs are not “good jobs:” Sometimes they are in rural areas or have undesirable shifts.

3. Some jobs don’t pay enough: Additionally, employers don’t always realize their wages are low. As the article notes, “Only 22 percent of employers surveyed by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services last year named low wages as a hiring problem, but 68 percent of those employers were offering below average wages.”

4. Decline of unions: Unions traditionally negotiated pay and conducted skills training, but their stature and membership has dwindled in recent decades.

5. An unwillingness to consider candidates with a criminal record or inability to pass a drug test: Although some employers would like to hire these individuals, liability concerns with their insurance providers prevent them from doing so (Wall Street Journal).

Here are some of my own thoughts on this issue. We assume that business owners and managers know what’s best for their businesses. That is not always the case. Many businesses are strategy-less. Many businesses do not have a human resource strategy, or their strategy is to make as much money as possible on the backs of the workers. Many employers do an inadequate job of developing and managing human resources.  Smart employers have adopted business models that are human resource-driven. It’s all about talent, innovation, and productivity in the future. It’s not about simple low-paying jobs.

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