A specter haunts the job market. You’ve witnessed it on the campaign trail. You’ve seen it on TV. It is the idea that the skills of U.S. workers don’t match the needs of the nation’s employers.
This “skills mismatch” is routinely held up to explain why the unemployment rate is still at 8.2% three years after the Great Recession officially ended, and why nearly half of those out of work have been so for more than six months. The Romney campaign affirms that the skills mismatch “lies at the heart of our jobs crisis.” In his State of the Union speech, President Obama quoted conversations with businessmen who can’t find qualified workers, and then proposed “a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.”
It is heart-warming to see Democrats and Republicans agree, but unfortunate that the thing they agree about may not be true.
In recent months, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the University of California-Berkeley, and the Wharton School have expressed skepticism about the existence of a national skills mismatch. A larger body of work, stretching back decades, paints a murky picture about how broad-based a problem worker skill level is. Despite this, policymakers have fretted about the issue for 30 years, in periods of high unemployment and low. If the research is far from certain, why does the skills-mismatch narrative stay with us? And by fixating on mismatched skills, are we ignoring a far bigger problem for the economy?
UNDER-QUALIFIED OR OVER-QUALIFIED?
History is a useful place to start looking for answers. Concern about missing skill arose in the early 1980s as an increasing gap in pay between college graduates and everyone else led economists to believe that the demand for skill was outstripping its supply — largely, it seemed, because automation and computers boosted the need for white-collar workers over blue-collar ones. At the same time, a series of government-commissioned reports questioned America’s broader work-readiness. The Department of Education’s 1983 A Nation at Risk and the Department of Labor’s 1987 Workforce 2000 held forth about declining American standards, with the latter concluding that “the drastic reduction in the availability of qualified young labor force entrants… may imperil the nation’s competitive position.”…
- Book: Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It | Wharton Digital Press (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- Unemployment is high not because businesses are shedding jobs but because no one is hiring (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- Lost jobs aren’t coming back and new skills are needed (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- U.S. Army and the Skills Gap – Industry certifications to validate existing military personnel skills (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- The Global Skill Gap: 38 million to 40 million fewer workers with tertiary education than employers will need (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- Skills Gap – Ohio: Manufacturers need qualified workers (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- Skills Gap – There won’t be enough A & P (airframe and propulsion) licensed mechanics for an Airbus Assembly plant when in Mobile (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- The Skills Gap Fallacy (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- Is America falling behind in the Talent War ? (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- Skills Gap Means Longer Hours Hint for Some Jobs (jobmarketmonitor.com)
- France – Skill Gap – GE Can’t Find Workers (jobmarketmonitor.com)