Friday, December 7, 2012

"Skills Gap" is Really a Wage Gap

Re: "Augusta emphasis: Skills gap education," Portland Press Herald, 12/07/2012.

The "skills gap" is about as bogus a concept as the "fiscal cliff." Reporter Steve Mistler writes:

"A recent report from the Manufacturing Institute showed that more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs nationwide were unfilled because employers couldn't find workers."

This is business-speak for "Employers were too picky and/or too cheap to pay applicants a decent wage."

According to Peter Cappelli, management professor, director of the Wharton School's Center for Human Resources and author of the book, Why Good People Can't Get Jobs (2012), employers' constant lamentation of a "skills gap" is largely a "self-inflicted" dilemma (Time, 06/04/2012). As he explains in his book, at least 10 percent of employers, "when pressed" concede "the candidates they want won't accept the position at the wage levels being offered."

"That's not a skill shortage," Cappelli writes, "it's simply being unwilling to pay the going price."

Cappelli also points to employers' aversion to training new employees, as well as the highly selective computer software now commonly utilized to screen resumes and cover letters for precise keywords. (Because, you know, having actual people read the resumes rather than machines would just make too much sense.) As the author notes in an interview on NPR (Morning Edition, 06/12/2012), one HR Director, in an experiment, applied for his own job using the software and was deemed unqualified.

The problem, clearly, is not the "unskilled" job applicants--it's the employers' unreasonable expectations.

Furthermore, I worry that this myopic educational emphasis on skills--and the overarching concept that college is little more than glorified job-training--comes at the expense of traditional liberal arts education. You can read my further thoughts on that topic, here.


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