Recent economic studies underscore the confusion resulting from conflicting claims about the so-called “skills gap.”
Finding the right match
Corporate America and pro-business groups argue that millions of U.S. residents can’t find jobs and sores of American companies can’t find workers because potential employees lack necessary skills to perform the jobs that go unfilled. The national economy, proponents say, continues to suffer as a result.
The global consulting firm McKinsey & Company this month published research that bolsters the skills gap narrative. The impact, says McKinsey, is a significant loss in productivity and poor wages. The consultants argue for what they called “online talent platforms” to help link workers and companies in this digital age.
Several corporate executives are singing the same song. Jamie Dimon, CEO of J. P. Morgan & Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, CEO of Jobs for Future, in a Politico article, assert that today’s global technological revolution has exacerbated this gulf. The nation’s economy suffers they say because many jobs in the service and industry sectors require specialized knowledge that many workers or unemployed don’t have.
Where is the gap?
But recent research largely debunks this notion.
Iowa State University economists Dave Swenson and Liesl Eathington find virtually no evidence on either the state or national level to support a skills gap theory. Instead, the explanation more often is that these companies can’t find people to work for low wages.
The Boston Consulting Group likewise says that–despite some local disparities–the notion of a widespread skills gap in manufacturing is overstated.
Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman calls the skills gap myth a zombie that can’t be killed. It defies extinction because large corporations like to blame lack of trained workers instead of company mismanagement for economic stagnation.
Former Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist, Heidi Shierholz, has reached a similar conclusion. She states that a skills gap is not to blame for the nation’s sluggish recovery.
Let’s be honest
Instead of blaming unskilled workers for America’s malingering malaise, policy makers, industry and educators should look at other forces that impede full recovery.
Citing nonexistent bogeymen as the cause of our economic problems is an unacceptable excuse by public and private sector leaders who refuse to honestly identity their own culpability and to implement appropriate solutions.