Skills gap myth (finally) falls, but will anyone hear it?

Better late than never, I suppose:

There is a durable belief that much of today’s unemployment is rooted in a skills gap, in which good jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. This is mostly a corporate fiction, based in part on self-interest and a misreading of government data.
A Labor Department report last week showed 3.8 million job openings in the United States in April — proof, to some, that there would be fewer unemployed if more people had a better education and better skills. But both academic research and a closer look at the numbers in the department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey show that unemployment has little to do with the quality of the applicant pool.

We’ve looked at the skills gap myth here before. I was wary right from the start, because the skills gap story is extremely beneficial to employers, at the expense of employees and the public. Too, the skills gap story has been used to justify everything from privatizing public schools to union-busting to unpaid internships to employers just blatantly shoving the cost of training their employees off on the public. No one ever says “there’s a skills gap! let’s extend unemployment benefits!” No, it’s all privatizing and union-busting and public subsidies to private employers.

I trace the skills gap myth to one Mr. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, but I’m sure he didn’t come up with it all by himself:

Sit in at any economic development conference in Wisconsin these days and you’re bound to hear talk about the “skills gap.”
The term is popular with employers who complain they can’t find enough qualified workers to fill open positions — despite a stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Earlier this month, a top executive with Marinette Marine Corp. warned that “manufacturing would cease to exist” in the state unless Wisconsin addressed its skilled worker shortage.
State officials — including Gov. Scott Walker — have jumped on the issue too, saying there are loads of great jobs out there if workers could improve their skills. The Legislature with near bipartisan support recently approved $15 million in grants to private-sector companies to train new workers and Walker wants to target some higher education funding to schools that will focus on teaching needed skills.

The New York Times helped spread the “durable belief” they’re so upset about, actually. The completely clueless Tom Friedman was one of the main salespeople. But why didn’t statements like this from the skills gap myth sales force cause people to question this story?

The blame-the-worker mentality lurking behind the “ skills gap” thesis was more explicitly laid out by PIMCO hedge fund owner Bill Gross, who declared, “Our labor force is too expensive and poorly educated for today’s marketplace.”

This is from an interview with one of the skills gap debunkers:

Peter Cappelli (PC): These stories have been kicking around for a long time – about problems associated with the labor force that are causing employers headaches … they have all been wrong frankly, so far. But, there are a lot of them. So at some point, people keep hearing all these stories and they start to think that there must be something to them. So I think where it started this time was of course during the Great Recession, and people started hearing these stories, and wondering what’s going on.

The mainstream view is the intersection of a couple of different arguments. One argument is that employers can’t find what they want and the other argument is that schools are failing – and the conclusion from those two arguments is that employers can’t find what they want because students don’t have adequate skills when they graduate because the schools are doing such a lousy job. So that’s the dominant view.
We know that’s not true – first, schools are not getting worse. In fact, student performance is going up and it’s been true for quite a while that the average American is more educated than the job they’re doing requires. There’s actually a whole line of research about the excess supply of people being over qualified, so I knew that part of the story wasn’t true. So you start asking yourself about the other parts. Like if you really have a shortage of some kind, you’d expect labor markets to get tight and you would expect wages to go up. But, that hasn’t been happening. So that suggests that something is wrong, because if wages are not going up, how can you have a tight labor market?

And then we know that employers are basically not paying very much, so if you are the least bit economically oriented, then you say ‘ok, they can’t find what they want, but they’re not willing to raise their prices (wages in this case) so gee, that’s not a surprise.’ The point is there is not a single part of that conventional wisdom is true. And it’s amazing how popular it is. But, it’s popular because first, the employer is off the hook.

Why do we have to go through this over and over? Wouldn’t it be easier to look at these claims critically right from the start before just blindly repeating them over and over until they become “durable beliefs”?

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107 replies
  1. 1
    Maude says:

    Corporate policy is why this is said. The bottom line is profit and stock price. It’s the Reagan way of doing business.

  2. 2
    Rex Everything says:

    Why do we have to go through this over and over? Wouldn’t it be easier to look at these claims critically right from the start before just blindly repeating them over and over until they become “durable beliefs”?

    I hope we’re starting to learn. But roughly half the electorate believes in an utterly mythological narrative re the economy, and considers itself the realistic & tough-minded half. As I’m sure you know, it’s really fuckin’ hard to get through to them, and this is no accident.

  3. 3
    Kay says:

    @Maude:

    Don’t you just laugh when you hear one of these start, though? “Oh. It’s the workers that are the problem!” Again.

    There’s a shocker, huh? We’ve traced the problem back to where it always is: the deadbeats who should be happy we let them hang around, let alone pay them.

  4. 4
    Keith G says:

    For at least eight years, I have been coming upon reports that the reported skills gap in IT and computer engineering was either non existent or not nearly as big as tech companies claim.

  5. 5
    deep tin says:

    Yup, eventually neuroscientists and software developers will be paid in a daily ration of fish heads and a bowl of rice. And they’ll be HAPPY about it because if they aren’t their employer will just go out and find someone who is willing to be paid in a WEEKLY ration of fish heads and a bowl of rice.

    It’s a race to the bottom people!

  6. 6
    Kay says:

    @Keith G:

    Walker’s claim was immediately debunked. Unions said there would be more skilled trades training (done by unions) if Walker would stop targeting unions. They went and found unemployed, unionized skilled trades. It didn’t matter. There wasn’t even a “debate”. It was just “skills gap it is!”

  7. 7
    Redshift says:

    Speaking from way too much personal experience, employers don’t want to pay what people are actually worth, and want to hire someone who has all of the skills they’re looking for rather than doing any training or allowing on-the-job learning. I suspect both of these are driven by what they think they can get away with because of the large pool of the unemployed, but as Krugman has documented, wages all over the developed world are very “sticky” against downward pressure because people can’t afford to take a major cut, so employers are fooling themselves. But since those who are hiring aren’t under any pressure to hire quickly because of ongoing low demand, they can keep trying to get that perfect candidate who will also work for less.

  8. 8
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    How much skillz do you need to do a $7.25/hour job. This was already a non-debate.

  9. 9
    Steeplejack says:

    Funny that PIMCO hedge fund guy Bill Gross says “our labor force is too expensive.” You never seem to hear that about CEOs (or hedge-fund guys). Then it’s always “We have to pay top dollar to attract the best talent.”

  10. 10
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    A little logic and critical thinking would have helped also.

    November 2007: Unemployment at 4.7%, aka as close to “full employment” as we get.

    Oct 2009: Unemployment more than doubles, to 10%. Skill gap! Fully sprung from its own loins and grown to maturity, all in less than two years.

    Whenever you point this out, someone always brings up the first-person anecdotal refutation along the lines of oh come on I know that certain kinds of jobs vanished. Yes, a lot of jobs vanished, but pretty much in all sectors, as Krugman keeps painstakingly pointing out.

    Not that there aren’t certain trends over the long term, but blaming our current high unemployment on skill gaps never made sense with even the most cursory look at the facts. What happened between the last month of 2007 and the last months of 2009 was not a sudden onset of skill mismatch, it’s impossible.

  11. 11
    c u n d gulag says:

    GOP POV:
    There sure is a skills gap in this country!

    The gap is between the skills required, and what our sacred “Job Creators” care to pay for those skills.
    Skilled people sure are greedy motherfuckers!!!

    Plus, if people don’t have the skills, or the education to do the jobs that are out there, the solution is – CUT EDUCATION!!!

    We’re just wasting our good money trying to teach kids and young adults, and then when they grow-up, they expect to get paid for what they know.

    We should just teach them to take what they get, say “Thank you,” and die quickly!

    Remind us again why we’re against suicide?
    Oh yeah – Jesus, or something.

  12. 12
    Steeplejack says:

    And the skills-gap argument goes out the window every time someone doesn’t land a job because they’re “overqualified.”

  13. 13

    BTW NYT is already doing it, outsourcing their knowledge free analysis to op-ed contributors from Banglore, no less. MoU beware, you has competition.

  14. 14
    BruceJ says:

    This has been the refrain in the IT industry for years “We just can’t find American workers; give us more H1B’s so we can import cheap labor to work 80 hours a week under near-slave conditions.”

  15. 15
    rikyrah says:

    I love how you bring the truth, Kay.

    Keep on telling it, because it needs to get out

  16. 16
    patrick II says:

    Why did the supposed skills gap, and resultant high unemployment, occur so suddenly at the same exact time as the banking crisis? Is there some obscure cause and affect relationship between banking criminality and skills amnesia?

  17. 17
    Emma says:

    Now, everybody, act surprised.

  18. 18
    catpal says:

    @BruceJ: I experienced that a few times as an IT contractor — “we can offer you the job at this $$$$$ much less – because we can give it to an H1B for that $$$$$ less.

    not lack of skills – PA Repug Gov says so many “unemployed can’t pass the drug test.”

  19. 19

    Deficits do not grow an economy
    The high unemployment had more to do with the demand shocks of 2008 recession than any skills gap.

    I can has McCardle’s job?

  20. 20
    sherparick says:

    http://www.post-gazette.com/st.....re-692123/

    …In the U.S., the phenomenon is not limited to isolated and vulnerable sectors, such as commodity manufacturing. Rather, wages have fallen across the entire national economy — down 1.1 percent in the 12-month period from September 2011 to September 2012, the most recent comparisons available.

    “Average weekly wages declined in every industry except for information,” the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in its latest economic census.

    That quarterly report has shown year-over-year declines only six times since the data collection began in 1978 — and four of those have occurred since 2009…”.

    Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/st.....z2Wb8AmRC0

    Back in December 2010, in a burst of honesty, the House Republican Study Group and Heritage Foundation put out policy statement stating that one of the points of cutting Government expenditures and employment was to put more downward pressure on wages. This study disappeared off the web before it got much intention, but basically when you hear the hedge fund, bond guys, CEOS, and the economists who serve them: Casey Mulligan, Taylor, Cochrane, Mankiw, etc. stating that the Fed should stop QE and raise interest rates while the Government stops spending on food stamps and unemployment insurance is because they want more unemployment and more downward pressure on wages.

  21. 21
    Eric U. says:

    I can do so many different things at a high level of skill that sometimes I worry the government is going to get rid of me because I’m too dangerous. It’s difficult to even get employers to talk to me. I work with Indians, the people that supposedly have all the skills. They are really good at lying on their resumes and then studying like maniacs to back up the lies. I was searching for some very specialized programming information on the web once, the only reference to it was on the resume of an Indian grad student that was sitting 10 feet away from me. “Asok, could you come over here? I need some help with something.” He laughed.

  22. 22
    Mandalay says:

    @BruceJ:

    This has been the refrain in the IT industry for years “We just can’t find American workers; give us more H1B’s so we can import cheap labor to work 80 hours a week under near-slave conditions.”

    Exactly. And that charge has been led by St. William of Redmond…..who just happens to have a huge financial stake in depressing the salaries paid to software developers at Microsoft.

  23. 23
    Kay says:

    @BruceJ:

    Right, and obviously training their own workers is just unimaginable. That’s crazy talk.

  24. 24
    Forkbeard says:

    I work in tech, and to be honest the companies that really NEED H1B visas are the ones with ridiculously high standards. If you’ve committed to hiring people that get 1600 on SATs, graduate from Stanford Magna Cum Laude, and are young/driven enough to pull 15 hour days regularly, then you have a very small recruitment pool. Allowing more visas actually does make a difference in that case.

    I’m exaggerating, but some tech companies really do want to hire only the absolute best. And since there’s a finite number of The Best, they have a recruitment problem. But for most other companies, they really don’t have an excuse. College grads could do a lot of the work with a couple weeks of training. Companies just don’t want to spend even that much time improving their workers.

  25. 25
    Mandalay says:

    @Steeplejack:

    Funny that PIMCO hedge fund guy Bill Gross says “our labor force is too expensive.” You never seem to hear that about CEOs (or hedge-fund guys). Then it’s always “We have to pay top dollar to attract the best talent.”

    That gets my vote for post of the day.

    It would make a great sound bite for the Democrats…if they care.

  26. 26
    The Dangerman says:

    Skills gap as presented traditionally is a complete load of shit; you want skilled labor, you pay for skilled labor, you get skilled labor. There is only a gap when you want skilled labor but don’t want to pay for it.

  27. 27
    Linnaeus says:

    Almost all of my training for my current job has been on-the-job. I’m still amazed at that, given that no one else seems to do that anymore.

  28. 28
    El Cid says:

    It’s truly unfair that so many highly skilled Americans refuse to put their valuable talents to work for free, or at the very least live in a discarded aluminum house shantytown and get paid in scrip and pennies a day.

  29. 29
    catclub says:

    @Forkbeard: “I’m exaggerating, but some tech companies really do want to hire only the absolute best.”

    But are not apparently willing to bid high enough to actually get them.

  30. 30
    The Moar You Know says:

    If anything, our employees are coming in over-educated in most areas. There are two in which they really fall down:

    1. Writing. They can’t write for shit. I have PhDs that can’t write for shit. I don’t know how this happens but it sure would be nice if the schools could fix it.

    2. Working with others. Getting my new people to work with others or with management is like herding cats. I find this aspect of my job to be the most exhausting.

  31. 31
    Mandalay says:

    @Eric U.:

    I work with Indians, the people that supposedly have all the skills. They are really good at lying on their resumes

    I don’t want to get in a pissing contest about it, but in my experience Americans are pretty good at lying on resumes as well.

    It usually takes less than a minute to identify bullshitters in a technical interview.

  32. 32
    Forkbeard says:

    @catclub: Yep. The problem is that when you have incredibly strict recruiting standards, no matter how much you pay there’s still this very finite pool of possible employees that’s shared amongst all the companies with your same standards. In that case, there’s literally no way for all those companies to get they employees they ‘need’ unless they lower their standards or make the hiring pool larger.

    That’s what the visas should really be used for – very high quality folks from another country, or for very specialized jobs. What they get used for instead is to undercut workers in jobs that could be filled by people that are already here, and who are available.

  33. 33
    Forkbeard says:

    @Mandalay: No kidding. I always ask about 3-4 questions about their resume, and then destroy them in the technical interview if I think they’ve lied. Fun times, actually.

  34. 34
    Berial says:

    We’ve never had a ‘skills gap’, we’ve always had a ‘capital gap’. As in those with the capital refuse to lessen the gap between them and those without.

  35. 35
    Mandalay says:

    It might be worth the time of some post grad student to crunch the numbers on the economic papers that argue for increasing H1Bs.

    Maybe it’s not just Reinhart and Rogoff who need to be skewered.

  36. 36
    feebog says:

    @ The Moar You Know:

    1. Writing. They can’t write for shit. I have PhDs that can’t write for shit. I don’t know how this happens but it sure would be nice if the schools could fix it.

    Absolutely agree. I used to manage a labor relations unit that covered about 12K employees. Writing skills were essential, but very scarce. I used to edit letters and briefs with a red pen, it sometimes looked like I had bled all over the copy.

  37. 37
    fledermaus says:

    “employers can’t find what they want because students don’t have adequate skills when they graduate because the schools are doing such a lousy job.”

    In every single one of these articles there never say what “skills” they actually want. I’d wager that they couldn’t even say. Just like free trade proponents say “don’t worry about jobs moving to low wage countries because there will be new jobs for everyone, doing, um, something. But everyone need to be retrained to do that, um, something”

  38. 38
    James E. Powell says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier to look at these claims critically right from the start before just blindly repeating them over and over until they become “durable beliefs”?

    When was the last time critical analysis was a significant part of American political discourse?

    When was the last time anyone even used facts?

  39. 39
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    47% of Americans won’t even work a job. I’m shocked the unemployment rate is so low.

  40. 40
    Mike in Seattle says:

    @Maude: After Amazon went public and for the first few years there was no relationship between company performance and stock price, that got me to thinking: why does profitability have anything to do with stock price?

    Alice buys a share of stock from an initial public offering. The company is capitalized. Bob buys that share from Alice. The company receives no revenue from this, right? So who cares what the price is?

    Then it hit me. The executives running the dump own probably 80-90% of the stock. That’s why they want to keep the price high.

    It took me awhile, but I got it eventually. There is no relationship between profitability and stock price. It’s all just part of the game.

  41. 41
    IowaOldLady says:

    @The Dangerman: That’s very true. I’ve often thought that about the “shortage” of nurses. There’s no nurse shortage, just a shortage of people trained as nurses who are willing to keep working for the crappy pay and in understaffed circumstances.

  42. 42
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    They’re all for the free market except for when it concerns competing for customers or competing for employees.

  43. 43
    catpal says:

    or not about less Skills – but Bad Credit prevents Unemployed from getting job.

    so being Unemployed for awhile, increasing credit card debt to pay bills or pay electric bill late — means you Will Be a BAD Employee — no matter what your resume says.

  44. 44
    James E. Powell says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    1) I teach high school English. I do everything that I can to encourage students to develop writing skills. Nearly all of the students ignore everything I say. Except for a handful of exceptions, three or four students each year, they don’t see the point. They have no current life activities in which writing is a useful skill. They do not have any experience with writing being an effective means by which they acquire something they deem worth desiring. The standardized testing regime does not encourage writing anything except the five-paragraph essay answer. And that’s no way to learn to write.

    2) Working well with others requires one to subordinate one’s personal goals to the group’s goals. That’s not America, that’s Karl Marx!

  45. 45
    gbear says:

    Well when companies are holding out for that special someone who can write proposals, do small engine maintenance, and manage the installation of projects, of couse there’s a skills shortage. I read the job descriptions for new openings for my own employer and they’re asking for a jumble of things just short of requiring a plumbing license.

    Bosses are trying to fill two positions with one person while all of their current employees are doing 1.5 people’s jobs with no backup.

  46. 46
    R-Jud says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    Writing. They can’t write for shit. I have PhDs that can’t write for shit. I don’t know how this happens but it sure would be nice if the schools could fix it.

    I agree with you that there’s a shocking number of nominally educated people who absolutely cannot express themselves fluently (or even coherently) in writing.

    However, speaking as someone who gets paid to fix their abortive attempts at doing so, I kind of hope it doesn’t improve too much. I got billz, yo.

  47. 47
    Forkbeard says:

    Just finished reading the NY Times article – it’s spot on. Maybe if more people internalize that corporations will do whatever is in their own best interest – including lie to the public – we’d have something resembling an economy that made sense. Going to corporate leaders for advice never made sense at all.

  48. 48
    Eric U. says:

    @Mandalay: I think what you are saying is that the Americans aren’t good at lying on their resumes. I don’t work with many American students, so I don’t observe their job searches very often. What I am saying is that the Indians show up to the job interview prepared to back up what they said in their resume even though they just learned almost everything they know about C++ in the last week. If they get called back, they have had another month to study. I’m working with a grad student right now who is doing nothing on my project because he is studying for interviews. Never seen him work so hard, to be perfectly honest.

  49. 49
    Pogonip says:

    I have watched this progressing for 30 years. First, it was your fault that you didn’t have a good job because you didn’t go to college. So everyone ran out and went to college (including people who had no business there but weren’t left with much choice if they wanted to eat). Then, it was your fault because you didn’t go to college long enough, so everybody signed up for still more college. Now, it’s your fault because you insist on a reasonable wage and you don’t know the operations of a place entirely new to you. My question is, when will the 99% wake up and realize it’s not our fault and do something about the 1%? Any guesses?

  50. 50
    👽 Martin says:

    I think there are two parties talking past each other on this.

    Is the conversation about jobs, or about manufacturing jobs – because it routinely shifts from one to the other. On manufacturing, there definitely is a skills gap. It’s a catch-22: there is little manufacturing job supply because the jobs have moved to where the skills are. There is little evidence of a lack of skill demand for those jobs because there are relatively few of those jobs being offered.

    I’m part of a group trying to get a manufacturing initiative off the ground, and it’s very clear that we have not been educating students for this kind of work. At all. We’re changing that in response to what manufacturers are telling us, and in return we’re asking if they’ll onshore their manufacturing in response. There’s no question there’s a gap in this particular sector. I don’t treat manufacturing as anecdotal to the jobs question given the intense interest from the left that manufacturing jobs above retail and service jobs be restored. And that’s particularly true when the conversation is coming out of places like Ohio [cough].

    So it becomes difficult to discuss this point when it seems as though the subject shifts with the winds. Regarding growing jobs in the sectors which have historically grown in this country: no skills gap. Regarding growing jobs in the sectors some wish would be growing in this country: skills gap.

  51. 51
    Tone in DC says:

    I work in the IT field. The range of compensation around here is rather wide, as some companies don’t care to provide decent pay; that floor can be very low indeed.

    These are the same companies that usually offer no benefits. All of this with so many “at will” appointments. And the Masters of the Universe think wages are too high. They truly need to take their six figure bonuses and use them for a proctological device.

  52. 52
    The Moar You Know says:

    I teach high school English. I do everything that I can to encourage students to develop writing skills. Nearly all of the students ignore everything I say. Except for a handful of exceptions, three or four students each year, they don’t see the point. They have no current life activities in which writing is a useful skill. They do not have any experience with writing being an effective means by which they acquire something they deem worth desiring. The standardized testing regime does not encourage writing anything except the five-paragraph essay answer. And that’s no way to learn to write.

    @James E. Powell: My wife also teaches high school English. I feel bad for you. We are trying to stick it out until the earliest date she can retire, take the massive early retirement hit, and get her out. I’d sooner shoot a child than let them go into teaching nowadays.

    What little the students are willing to do is negated by parents who are willing to ruin a teacher’s career and life if they dare point out the fact that their little angel refuses to do any work and tried to set the building on fire (actual example from this last school year). The source of the inability to write is no mystery to me; I just wish that parents would realize that they’re actively destroying their children’s chance at a future.

  53. 53
    Petorado says:

    Pssst. Hey, no one look at the extraordinary flow of money available for salaries that’s now being directed to the small group of the people at the top of the organization. The vast disparity between salaries of upper level execs and the staff that actually makes the products and provides the services has no effect on the ability of the organization to compensate employees to the extent of the value they truly add to a company. Nothing to see here.

  54. 54
    Pogonip says:

    @The Moar You Know: Suggested essay topic: “Why I Set the Building on Fire.”

  55. 55

    @Eric U.:

    I work with Indians, the people that supposedly have all the skills. They are really good at lying on their resumes and then studying like maniacs to back up the lies.

    So all Indians lie on their resume, aren’t you making a sweeping generalization here?

  56. 56
    The Moar You Know says:

    So all Indians lie on their resume, aren’t you making a sweeping generalization here?

    @schrodinger’s cat: Everyone lies on their resumes, no exceptions. When I interview, my only concern is to find out if they’re the kind of lies that don’t matter, or the kind of lies that will put us out of business.

  57. 57
    Mudge says:

    @Kay: Marinette wants “Marinette Marine still needs a large assortment of welders, steel workers, pipe fitters, plumbers, and electricians, ..” and will start them at $12-14 an hour. Why would someone trained as a plumber do that? They could fix my toilet for $100 an hour. I have to believe, as well, that 600 skilled tradesmen are sitting around Marinette, WI just waiting to work for a company that has had numerous layoffs in the last few years.

  58. 58
    Mandalay says:

    @Eric U.:

    What I am saying is that the Indians show up to the job interview prepared to back up what they said in their resume even though they just learned almost everything they know about C++ in the last week.

    Any competent technical interviewer should be capable of skewering such a candidate in about one minute.

    The first question would be “How much experience do you have with C++”? The next two or three questions would be technical, at a level that matched their claimed experience. Generally, if they couldn’t answer those then there is no need for any further questions.

    If you had a candidate with only a few weeks experience with C++, and they claimed otherwise, then that definitely should have been caught at the technical interview.

  59. 59
    catclub says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: You might want to adjust your snark detector for that post.

  60. 60
    gene108 says:

    @Forkbeard:

    If you’ve committed to hiring people that get 1600 on SATs

    A 1600 isn’t a good SAT score anymore. They added a writing section many, many years ago. So the basic SAT score is now out of 2400, plus you have the subject specific SAT’s like Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish, etc.

    @👽 Martin:

    in return we’re asking if they’ll onshore their manufacturing in response.

    I think one thing that a lot of Americans don’t appreciate is how much of an advantage the U.S. had in manufacturing after WW2. I’ve read estimates that after WW2 ended, the U.S. accounted for 80% of the world’s manufacturing capacity.

    I don’t know if the obsession on manufacturing jobs is really healthy, because it seems to presume non-manufacturing jobs are by definition shitty, low paid dead end jobs. Manufacturing didn’t become a pathway to the middle class overnight.

    I think the bigger issue is to make the service sector jobs pay workers better.

  61. 61
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @👽 Martin:

    there is little manufacturing job supply because the jobs have moved to where the skills are.

    The jobs moved where the labor was cheap. Then employers started requiring job seekers to have the skills they were never going to get outside of those jobs. Therefore, no skills here. How do you get the skills to operate the equipment to build a Ford Truck outside of a Ford plant?

  62. 62
    Eric U. says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I’d feel guilty about that if it wasn’t nearly universal. I have worked with some exceptional people that obviously didn’t have to misrepresent their experience. The mediocre people lie unashamedly, and they certainly don’t hide it from me. To be perfectly honest, I have no problem helping them. My thought is that the employers don’t really care and the HR people are too stupid to know better. Or maybe they do know better and it makes them happy they can hire someone that says can program in Python and do small engine repair, because they put that in the ad intentionally knowing they would only get H1B applicants.

    @Mandalay: I am talking about new grads, so experience is a nebulous thing. These guys tend to get technical questions, the employers don’t seem to be trying to quantify experience.

  63. 63
    Mr Blifil says:

    “Why do we go through this over and over?” Because capitalism is like a roving game of three card monte, and when you find out what’s going on, the malefactors pack it all up in a flash, move somewhere else, do exactly what they were doing before and act all indignant when any of this is pointed out to them. Oh and also too… the people with the money get to decide the terms of the debate and the narratives around which social consensus congeals.

  64. 64

    @catclub: My snark detector works just fine. I responded to him because he made the same point twice. Of course YMMV.

  65. 65
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Eric U.: As a C++ developer, it hasn’t mattered where they come from, I can assess their skills pretty quickly:
    1. Explain the difference between public, protected, and private inheritance.
    2. Write a function that computes the nth Fibonacci number. (You wouldn’t believe how few actually know about the Fibonacci series.)
    3. Let’s design something.

    ETA: Not that these are all my questions, but a lot of people don’t actually know how good or bad they are, or really have a good idea of what to compare to. Personally, I have been about a 7 out of 10 for the last 15 years, though I would now rate my 15 year ago developer at a 3.

  66. 66
    Tyro says:

    @👽 Martin: we have not been educating students for this kind of work.

    One does not educate students for a career in manufacturing, beyond literacy and mathematical skills. Rather the employer trains competent adults in the use of their tools. Possibly if manufacturers, unions, and and governments want to fund programs at community colleges to get people up to speed, I could accept this. But don’t blame schools for not doing employers’ jobs for them.

  67. 67

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Hey we did the Fibonacci series exercise in one of the C++ classes I took. I hate programming in general and C++ in particular, was a necessary evil to design Monte Carlo simulations.

  68. 68
    Forkbeard says:

    @gene108: Whoops! Completely forgot about the new writing section. That was a few years after my time. :)

    Great. Now I feel old.

  69. 69
    The Moar You Know says:

    Marinette wants “Marinette Marine still needs a large assortment of welders, steel workers, pipe fitters, plumbers, and electricians, ..” and will start them at $12-14 an hour. Why would someone trained as a plumber do that? They could fix my toilet for $100 an hour. I have to believe, as well, that 600 skilled tradesmen are sitting around Marinette, WI just waiting to work for a company that has had numerous layoffs in the last few years.

    @Mudge: They are. The Feds are doing it too. We bid a Fed job recently where we were going to be offering a welder $14/hour. Weirdly enough, I have a welding background from high school. $14/hour would have been laughable shit wages for a welder back in 1982; in 2013 it ought to be a duel-worthy insult, save that everyone is so desperate for work that we had ten guys ready to go the first day I ran the ad. I have never felt so awful in my life, seeing the hope on their faces for a wage that I would have spurned in high school. I kept thinking, has shit really gotten this bad? Oh, it has. In fact, I had no idea. We got underbid. BY 30 PERCENT. Some poor fucker is out there doing industrial-quality welds for 9 or 10 bucks an hour, 10 hours a day, no health care, no benefits.

    I can, on an abstract level, understand why a private employer would do such a thing, but the Feds? What the fuck?

    ETA: just to be very clear; had we gotten this work, our profit margin would have been around 3%. Not a case of “one for you, nineteen for me”. Unbelievable.

  70. 70
    Eric U. says:

    do the Feds really have a choice? They have to do a source selection and lowest competent bidder gets the job.

  71. 71
    Prof.Pedant says:

    If ‘the skills gap’ was a real thing the best way to address it – assuming that there is also a policy of enabling employers to keep wages as low as possible – would be to provide lots and lots of free education (and sufficient funds that a person can afford to attend the classes). The newly educated/trained workers would acquire their employer-needed skills without going into debt, and because they are debt-free (and we also have a viable National Healthcare, and strongly strengthened Social Security) they are able to afford to take jobs at the wages employers are willing to pay. In short: if the basic necessities are guaranteed I have much less need for a high-salary job, and a much greater ability to take a job because it is something I really enjoy doing.

  72. 72
    The Moar You Know says:

    do the Feds really have a choice? They have to do a source selection and lowest competent bidder gets the job.

    @Eric U.: No, and that’s fine, but there’s also a prevailing wage requirement. We undercut it a little on the bid, figuring we’d take it out of the profit margin and pay the guys the going rate. The winning bidder obviously took minimum wage as prevailing wage and bid accordingly. Totally illegal and not a fucking thing I can do about it. The government MUST know this is going on and they choose not to do anything about it. I find that scary.

  73. 73
    El Cruzado says:

    @gbear: Those often are resumes posted to justify “not finding an American” to do the job of an H1B they want to get a green card for. The Labor Department requires employers to “try” finding an US worker to do the job of an H1B before agreeing to let immigration process them for a green card, so the attempts are usually tailor-made to make sure no one is actually found so the worker can get his green card and stay at the job.

    If somehow someone comes up with all the qualifications he just gets offered a separate job later, as it would be a waste of good talent not to do so.

  74. 74
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Do they fail if they give you a recursive design for the Fibonacci generator?

  75. 75
    Tone in DC says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    They should kiss that guy first.
    Just reading that hurt my damn eyes.

  76. 76
    RSR says:

    speaking of teaching and teachers, and under prepared labor–

    http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_new.....eport-says

    ‘Industry of mediocrity’: Rookie teachers woefully unprepared, report says

    Fire fighters get probationary (mentored) periods, doctors get residencies. Teachers get thrown to the wolves. It’s almost like they want the system to fail. Oh, wait.

  77. 77
    Mike in NC says:

    @Tyro: The state of North Carolina set up a program at community colleges to retrain people to give them in-demand skills.

    The Republicans in Raleigh are doing their best to kill it.

  78. 78
    gelfling545 says:

    @Tyro: Yes. It seems like the employers want the public systems to take over a lot of what they used to do: train their employees, pay their benefits and make up with government programs for the fatc that they don’t pay employees enough to actually buy groceries. Just don’t ask the employers to pay anything in taxes, though, because they built this great business all on their own.

  79. 79
    WereBear says:

    The 1% is no longer interested in generating wealth. That’s too hard and requires some actual skills. No, what they do now is steal.

    They rig everything so money keeps flowing upwards, even though they have to turn around and spend a lot of that money to corrupt government, media, academia, and the democratic process.

    But that keeps the money flowing… along with the illusion that they are, you know, Jerb Creators! Masters of the Universe! So so so special.

  80. 80
    👽 Martin says:

    @Tyro:

    One does not educate students for a career in manufacturing, beyond literacy and mathematical skills.

    One does educate students in how to build factories. In how to run factories. In how to manage production lines. A lot manufacturing requires specialized equipment constructed for the task. We don’t do that any more. How do you ensure quality control? How do you streamline workers and production for efficiency? None of those are basic literacy and math skills.

    You can’t hire workers into a factory that you can’t build and operate.

  81. 81
    gelfling545 says:

    @👽 Martin: And you expect high schools to provide this for you? My Dad was the tail end of the “Great Generation” and graduated from high school, which was kind of a big deal then. What he learned in high school that was applicable to his working life was reading and math. Now he also learned a lot of other things including civics, literature, science, etc. but they had no immediate application to his job. He ended up making a very good living and was a master of his trade. All his training came from either his employer or his union. If you expect that colleges will train people in specific skills relative to specific industries, again, this is not what they do. There once were trade schools that did some of these things and they cost little or nothing to attend. They no longer exist. There are certainly college programs in architecture, business management, etc. but to expect that 1. someone will be willing to accumulate a pile of debt for entry into a relatively low wage job and 2. a new graduate in any field will be able to design, build, run a factory or anything else without time on the job and training in how the employer wants things build, run, etc. is really unrealistic. Even supposing we were to re-tool out entire education system to meet the needs certain industries have at present (which strikes me as madness) does not mean that these skills would necessarily be of any use in the work available when the students graduate. We can provide training in skills for jobs available now which may be useless on graduation (Fortran, anybody?). We can’t provide training for jobs that will be available on graduation because we do not know what they will be. The best we can do is to provide a good, general education to make sure that most of our people are literate and numerate and ready to take advantage of opportunities that may come along in a future that we can’t see. We should also ensure that they have a basic understanding of the operations of government and are able to participate in the political process.

  82. 82
    fuckwit says:

    Wow, these guys have been fucked by their own petard: economics.

    I love that quote above, it’s devastating: if there were a skills gap, the “free market” would respond by increasing wages! That’s how supply and demand works! People who had those skills would suddenly be making insane amounts of money, and everyone would be scrambling onto the bandwagon to go learn those skills so they could get rich too. That’s capitalism 101: supply and demand, and if supply is low and demand is high, you got yerself a gold rush, yee haw!

    I’ve been in that kind of seller’s labor market before, in the 1990s. Everyone was falling over themselves to learn DreamWeaver and HTML, because if you did, you could make shit-tons of money.

    So, if wages are stagnant, or declining, there is no skills gap. If there were a skills gap, the invisible hand would solve that by increasing the wages of the people with those skills to the point where people would find any way possible to learn those skills. Ergo, this whole skill gap thing is bullshit.

  83. 83
    Eric U. says:

    I think what it comes down to is that the American management class isn’t really prepared to run a factory anymore. Or interested doing that either. I assume eventually they will be displaced as the last and most expensive cost center, but that’s going to take a while. By the time that happens, we’re all going to be temping at an Amazon or Walmart distribution center because we’ll be cheaper than robots.

  84. 84
    MattR says:

    @Eric U.: Not those of us who write the software that is used to run the Amazon or Walmart whses. :)

  85. 85
    Chris says:

    @WereBear:

    The 1% is no longer interested in generating wealth. That’s too hard and requires some actual skills. No, what they do now is steal.

    Proudly living in the tradition of plantation owners, America’s original 1%.

  86. 86
    Kay says:

    @👽 Martin:

    We have a public community college about 30 miles away. This is a manufacturing county. About 15 years ago, companies worked with 5 county governments to buikd a trade school. It’s not a high school. Most of them take one class a term, in the evening. They eventually get an associates degree.

    I’ll support that, because both employer and employee are getting a good deal. It’s a public school. It’s affordable. It also provides jobs to skilled workers who are too old to work in a factory. They’re the instructors.

    I want it to benefit employees, employers AND my community.

    I don’t have to “pick one”. Everyone should get a CLEAR benefit, with no rip-off for-profit edu middleman.

    I know they can do this. They HAVE done it. I’ll support that with tax dollars. What I won’t do is pay for schemes that benefit ONLY CEO’s and shareholders and middlemen/grifters.

  87. 87
    Chris says:

    @WereBear:

    To add to what I said,

    They rig everything so money keeps flowing upwards, even though they have to turn around and spend a lot of that money to corrupt government, media, academia, and the democratic process.

    I think what really gets me with the 1% of our day isn’t even the way they rig the game so that such a disproportionate amount of money flows to them (not that that’s not wrong too) but how little society gets from them in return. I’m not even sure the robber baron analogy holds up, even if I’ve used it often enough. Say what you want about the railroad magnates, coal magnates, oil magnates, automobile magnates, but at least their companies were providing something useful for the public. Our 1%ers’ companies simply scam people and sends their money down the CEOs’ vaults. What good or service ever came out of Bain Capital?

  88. 88
    Kay says:

    @👽 Martin:

    I hear “public private partnership” now and I immediately tense up.

    I heard Clinton pushing them the other day. He’s a good salesman. Still, all I was thinking was “you’re going to get me a bad deal”

    If I must have public private partnerships, I want a good deal. I’m not the lesser “partner”.

  89. 89
    Gabe says:

    @BruceJ:

    Not just IT all of engineering.

    They’ve whined about not having enough engineers since before I graduated high school in 1993. Yet every aerospace company I worked for did it’s best to not promote people and hold wages down. Then went through a round of layoffs within 12 months of a big hiring push. (Boeing is the only exception to this lunacy.)

    I can’t remember the last time I met an engineer who was happy with his/her career. Most are pretty miserable and that’s why I’m not an aerospace engineer anymore.

    We sorely need more engineers in just about every sector if we are to continue to compete with China, India, and Japan. But I tell everyone who will listen that they should encourage their children to do something else until the job market changes dramatically. The problem isn’t skills gap, it isn’t the number of graduating engineers, it is the big employers.

  90. 90
    MattR says:

    @Gabe:

    Then went through a round of layoffs within 12 months of a big hiring push

    My company has been doing the opposite. We have had a couple different management teams come in and decide that they could cut costs by reducing labor. So there would be a round of layoffs, often involving the more senior and therefore more expensive employees. Then 3 months later when work started to pile up, they would realize that the original staffing level was necessary and hire a bunch of newbies who had to be brought up to speed.

  91. 91
    LongHairedWeirdo says:

    @Steeplejack: I did see an article pointing that out… basically, that if wages ran on the free market, we’d be looking for Indian CEOs who’ve handled similarly sized companies in similar situations. But they don’t.

    Instead, it’s always “squeeze the workers; they should be grateful we Created their Job.”

    There’s two big pieces to this.

    First, back when income tax maxed at 70%, hiring workers was cheaper. Now, the after-tax cost of a worker is twice as high.

    Second, now there’s a huge disparity between capital gains and ordinary income taxes, so it’s better to make money via capital appreciation. Is it any surprise that there’s so much money-gaming going on?

  92. 92
    e.a.f. says:

    Employers complain about skill shortages to get government money. It makes it easy for governments to reward their corporate friends. Skills shortage, hey no problem. the government gives the company money to train workers. This subsidy forms part of the workers’ salaries. Once the “training” is over and the subsidy is no longer paid by the government, the worker is laid off.

    Just another e.g. of your tax dollars at work. Welfare for corporations. there are no skill shortages. There are job shortages. This is simply a mantra the corporations and governments use to “blame the victim”, blame the workers. If there truly were skill shortages salaries would be going up to attract workers. The salaries are not going up, they are going down. The corporations have exported most manufacturing jobs overseas, where it can be done more cheaply. They simply use the excuse of, skill shortages, to make it more palitable for the politicians

  93. 93
    Matt says:

    @👽 Martin:

    With all due respect, shenanigans. There are way too many of these stories:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11.....bills.html

    where manufacturing companies are whining that they can’t recruit skilled machinists for $10/hr jobs.

    If you’re concerned because “we aren’t educating students for this work”, that reads to me that you’re trying to hire new grads – ever considered hiring already-trained workers? Of course, you won’t be as able to feed them a line of anti-union crud or pay them peanuts…

  94. 94
    karen says:

    At the company I got laid off from last month, I hadn’t (and probably none of the employees) had a raise in six years. Every time someone left the company whether they were fired or left, instead of hiring someone specific to do that job, broke the position down to job duties and had me do most of them. When I was laid off, I was already doing the jobs of four people plus various other job duties. Without me they’ll either have to pile more work on people who are already stretched to their limits or just not have those things get done. I worked there for almost 15 years and because I was such an anal perfectionist and very detail oriented, I was the go to person to pick up the slack or correct the work someone did wrong the first time. Now the “someone” is still there, I guess the company will just have to cross their fingers or they probably don’t care. I think that what these employers screaming for more skillz are really saying is, “We just want to hire one or two people. And those people need to do the jobs of ten people. And even though we’re saving eight salaries, these people need to be paid at the same rate as someone with no skillz.”

    We’ve reached a point where unless people go to school to get licensing or certification, college is not worth the exorbitant price because they won’t be paid enough to pay the loan back. I’m 47 and went to a SUNY from 1983-1987. I got a BS in Communications and at the time I graduated Liberal Arts degrees were encouraged because they made you well rounded. If I had a child in college now, I’d advise them that unless they want to be doctors or lawyers or accountants or something similar, it’s not worth going to an Ivy League school with an Ivy League price. I’d have them go to state college, though I’m in MD so I don’t know how much state colleges are these days.

    I was able to pay off my loan in 10 years. These graduates may not ever be able to pay theirs off. They may be better off if they go to Canada or Scandinavia because at least they’d be paid what they’re worth.

  95. 95
    g says:

    As a job seeker, someone who is facing a lay-off, and trying to get hired both outside my organization and as a transfer, I will tell you, employers are looking for employees who have the EXACT experience they want. They are not willing to train or crosstrain. So even an employee with institutional knowledge and transferable skills is rejected because they want someone who had done EXACTLY that same job.

    You could apply for a job doing PR for an ABC company with great experience doing PR for an XYZ company, and they would reject you for a candidate with less overall experience but who has done PR for another ABC company.

  96. 96
    Green Caboose says:

    The American Fascist Party has been pushing this myth forever. St. Reagan infamously declared that there were “26 pages of help wanted ads” in the Washington Post one Sunday during the 1981-82 recession. Doonesbury was there to respond … Zonker: “You’re right, B.D. I had no idea. Look at all these ads. All these Chemical Engineers should get off their backsides!” B.D.: “Well, we can’t keep coddling them forever.”

  97. 97
    Jerry says:

    @Keith G:
    Yeah, I’ve been seeing these “shortage” articles for many years. Inevitably a company flack will say “we have positions we’ve been unable to fill for a year.” Ummmm… excuse me Bucky, do you want me to believe that because you’re unable to hire a widget degreaser, that your whole company is just grinding to a halt and rapidly going broke amidst piles of greasy widgets? That you wouldn’t even think of raising the offering salary for a widget degreaser to lure one away from a competitor? That you wouldn’t drop a few bucks and train your own widget degreasers. That you wouldn’t look into the new grease-free widget technology? Oh, give me a break!

  98. 98
    mai naem says:

    Bill Gross, the guy who hired Neal KashnKarri after he got done handing out the billions and billions at TARP. I’m sure Gross hired KashnKarri because he had superior financial skills and had absolutely nothing to do with knowing where all the loot was from being at TARP.

  99. 99
    SFAW says:

    @g:

    You could apply for a job doing PR for an ABC company with great experience doing PR for an XYZ company, and they would reject you for a candidate with less overall experience but who has done PR for another ABC company.

    A friend once summarized it as: the hiring company says they want skills A, B,C, D … up through Z – if you only have A through Y, then you’re SOL.

    @👽 Martin:
    Interestingly written. Doesn’t really have much to do with anything, but it was certainly more literate than writing “I can haz manyoofackchring jobz pleeze?”

    But if the main part of your thesis is that we don’t have enough Operations or Ops Management experts in this country, then I think you might need to re-think your thesis. And, as others have responded: no, jobs didn’t move to China/Vietnam/Pakistan/Honduras/Malaysia/etc., because they had the critical skills whose onshore dearth you appear to be lamenting.

  100. 100
    SFAW says:

    @Gabe:

    They’ve whined about not having enough engineers since before I graduated high school in 1993.

    A lot longer than that. I think the H1B (or equivalent) cudgel has been used since at least the early 1980s, and probably even earlier.

  101. 101
    Bob Savage says:

    The only skills gap I observe exists with the media who fail to do their job and lazily accept the slop offered by the likes of Walker, Gross and Friedman.

  102. 102
    El Cid says:

    @fledermaus:

    Just like free trade proponents say “don’t worry about jobs moving to low wage countries because there will be new jobs for everyone, doing, um, something. But everyone need to be retrained to do that, um, something”

    I’ve been screaming this for years. Um, ‘social safety net,’ something something, innovation, whatever.

    It’s the area of economic policy debate worthy of polite ‘fuck you, whatever’ shrugs, whereas if it’s something that companies want right now? You better be fucking specific.

  103. 103
    becca says:

    @El Cid: There was c-span coverage of a global banking conference some 10 years or so ago (pre-9/11) and some of the attendees were interviewed.

    One fellow there said America would gladly give up its manufacturing base and embrace the financial service economy. He wasn’t American, but he seemed quite excited about the prospect of us being in the thrall of the banksters.

    I wanted to smash the tv.

  104. 104
    Bruce From Missouri says:

    @karen:

    I’m 47 and went to a SUNY from 1983-1987. I got a BS in Communications and at the time I graduated Liberal Arts degrees were encouraged because they made you well rounded.

    Wow, you are me, down to the age even. History degree, Kansas University. Never helped me in the slightest in my career. Laid off in ’09. “Well Rounded” is exactly the phrase they used with me also. I actually don’t regret going to college, I am more well-rounded, it just never positively affected my income.

  105. 105
    dollared says:

    Kay, congrats on the link out from Atrios!

  106. 106
    steve duncan says:

    Isn’t the same dynamic present in religion? Humans spread around unfounded, nonsensical beliefs until a strain of demented hysteria reigns, girded by a foundation of lies and deceit? One look at the population traipsing off to church every Sunday explains the gullibility factor at work in any hoodwinking of the population. See: Skills Gap.

  107. 107

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