I’ve been hearing from my clients for a long time that many local employers don’t train people anymore, so I’ve been listening to the discussion among elite opinion sellers and politicians about the “skills gap” with a healthy dose of skepticism.
While I certainly understand why a business would want their employees or the broader public to pick up the cost and risk of training and new hire selection, I’m not sure that’s properly described as an “employee skills gap.” I think maybe that’s partially described as “employers shifting cost and risk from the employer to their prospective employees or the public”. It’s expensive to train people, and then there’s always risk you’ll train them and they’ll fail at the job or take those skills elsewhere.
In addition to listening to my clients, I’ve also been listening to my son, Joe. He’s 18 and a private person, a genuinely nice guy who probably wouldn’t choose to reveal a whole lot on this blog so I won’t go into details on his life. He’s a high school graduate who has not yet decided what he wants to do. He started working full-time this past summer after he graduated, and he first temped at a local auto parts supplier, a Mexican company. People here tell me this is a “bad” employer, and Joe found that to be true. They had no interest in training anyone, constant turnover and really disgruntled employees. Joe kept looking while working there, and eventually got an interview with another local manufacturer. This employer has a good reputation among the local workforce.
When he went to apply for the new job the woman who did the initial interview was the former director of the YMCA daycare he attended as a child- he was as easygoing then as he is now- and she passed him to the next step. At that point he was given a test booklet. This company tests new hires to see if the employee could be slotted into training programs in areas like machining -paper and pencil test, no calculator allowed, show your work, they score it right in front of you. He did well on the test, and they started him as a “machinist assistant”. He works alongside a machinist who is originally from Scotland but moved here when he met and then married a local woman. Their division makes specialty furniture and equipment for hospitals and nursing homes. I don’t know if Joe will pursue this work. He’s 18. He’s not even past the permanent hire point yet. But he’s making appreciably better than minimum wage and he’s learning something and he accepts what is very hard work and long hours (mostly) happily.
This company still offers training and accepts some risk that this may not work out for one or both parties. Joe’s not taking all the risk. He’s not racking up debt training or acting as an unpaid intern. They’re not insisting someone else train their hourly employees, or demanding an employee volunteer for months in exchange for an eventual paid position. This is an investment they make, a risk they take, and they accept that investments don’t guarantee a return. They’re capitalists, in other words. They’re successful at this capitalism thing, too. They started with 5 employees 70 years ago and now they have more than 3000.
Here’s a different take on the skills gap, where the focus is on the employer rather than the employee or government:
it’s been underway for a while, and the thing that has changed, frankly, is that employers no longer expect to train anybody.
Well, they say the best way to know that is if [that candidate] has done the same job already and you say, okay, well you’ve done the same job already, you’re qualified, but we want you to have had the same job recently. Also, we don’t want you to have been laid off because we are afraid then that you must be rusty or got laid off because you weren’t very good … and I don’t blame them [employers] for trying to reduce the uncertainty, but there are consequences to that
20 years ago you probably didn’t hear many employers saying that – certainly 30 years ago they all said ‘we’ll hire for attitude and train for skill.’ And now, almost nobody says that – they say they expect people to hit the ground running.
Same author. Here he gives employers a simple test. Why should employees take all the tests? We’re coddling these capitalists, don’t you think? Let’s test the employers.
I like this question:
Before any employer jumps to the conclusion that hiring problems are caused by the labor market, take the following test:
1. Have you tried raising wages? If you could get what you want by paying more, the problem is just that you are cheap. The fact that I cannot find the car I want at the price I want to pay does not constitute a car shortage, yet a large number of employers claiming they face a skills shortage admit that the problem is getting candidates to accept their wage rates.