A Closer Look

A Training Gap, Not a Skills Gap – Interview with Professor Peter Cappelli

Knowledge@Wharton: One of your chapters in the book is called “A Training Gap, Not a Capture d’écran 2016-04-13 à 08.52.13Skills Gap.” You have some figures showing that in 1979, young workers received an average of two and a half weeks of training per year. By 1991, only 17% of young employees reported getting any training during the previous year, and by last year, only 21% said they received training during the previous five years. You note that this especially hurts work-based training programs, such as apprenticeships. So, really, a huge part of the so-called “skills gap” comes from the weak employer effort to promote internal training for either current employees or future hires. Is that correct?

Cappelli: Right. I think the story that one hears, particularly around the policy community, is that employers can’t find the people they want to hire because schools are failing and kids aren’t coming out with the right academic degrees and the right knowledge. If you actually look at the data from employers themselves when they report problems they’re having with recruiting, they never talk about academic skills as being near the top of the list. In fact, their complaints have been consistent for the 30 years or so that I’ve been looking at this. And their complaints are the ones, frankly, that older people always have about younger people — they’re not conscientious enough, their workplace attitudes are not diligent enough, they don’t want to work hard enough — those sorts of things. They’re not actually looking for young people out of school at all.

When you look at what they want, they want experience — everybody wants somebody with three to five years’ experience. What they’re really after are the skills that you can’t learn in a classroom, that you can only learn by doing the job itself. So, the craziness about the hiring requirements is that in most cases, employers are looking for somebody who is currently doing exactly the same job someplace else. That’s partly why they don’t want to look at an applicant who is currently unemployed…. They want somebody who is currently doing the same job right now. The problem is that nobody wants to give those people right out of school any experience. Nobody wants to take somebody who’s never done this job before and train them.

Now, I can understand why it’s better, easier, if you’re an employer to hire somebody who’s already been trained — or it seems like it’s better. But it’s creating this skills problem, because nobody wants to give people that initial experience. And again, in many cases, it would pay off to take people who are really qualified in many ways — except for these quite specific skills — and help them get training. You can pay them less while you’re training them. You can require that they get some of these skills before you engage them. But because of the accounting systems, employers, for the most part, have no idea what it would cost them to train somebody. They have no idea whether they’re actually saving money by trying to chase these people who already have jobs and hire them.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at  Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: Chasing After the ‘Purple Squirrel’ – Knowledge@Wharton

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