What a Real “Skills Gap” Looks Like

11th February 201610:20 pm

I had to clip this ad that ran in our local daily newspaper, the Palo Alto Post, today. Mostly for the edification of the D.C. and corporate policy elite who stubbornly maintain, even now, that the so-called “skills gap” is a major problem in our economy. This ad shows what an actual honest-to-god skills gap looks like. A business has enough demand to hire new workers and offer them on-the-job training. At last, real evidence of a skills gap (in this case, shoemaking)! But look closely at this ad. Do you see what makes it so unique?  So one of a kind? That’s right. It offers to train new workers. As such, I can now count the number of ads I have seen recently that offer on the job training at…just this one.

That’s important. Because it shows what employers do when there is a real skills gap in a market, not a phony one designed to blame unemployed workers for a plight inflicted on them by others.

I say this because the fight over the so-called “skills gap” consumed a lot of my time in Washington, D.C., including with good colleagues who were simply snuckered into buying the Chamber of Commerce line on this skills gap nonsense hook, line and sinker, namely, that there are “millions of open jobs” that no Americans are qualified to hold. The “skills gap” argument stays in play, in part, because corporate economists, their academic handmaidens and politicians who want to sound smart kept repeating it over and over again (creating what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman calls a “zombie argument” — a lie that no facts can kill).

The”skills gap” lie dies so hard for one simple reason: because without it our political establishment, in both the Republican and Democratic parties, would have to acknowledge what really happened to American workers over the last generation. For many years now, top leaders in both political parties have found it easier, and far more conducive to soliciting corporate campaign contributions no doubt, to blame the victims, un and underemployed workers in the U.S., rather than the government policies that savaged their earning power. I have explored some of the reasons why corporate leaders often overstate, and sometimes even just lie about, the “skills gap.” That’s why this ad was so refreshing. It’s a powerful reminder that when there really is a skills gap, when firms really, truly do need to hire new workers to meet customer demand, they know what to do.

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