The New York Times Editorial Board has come down hard—and I mean really hard—on the idea that our stubbornly high unemployment rate can be blamed on a skills gap (the notion that good jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants). The Times calls this a “corporate fiction” designed as excuse to keep wages down and get the government to pay for training corporate America doesn’t want to pay for:
If a business really needed workers, it would pay up. That is not happening, which calls into question the existence of a skills gap as well as the urgency on the part of employers to fill their openings. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “recruiting intensity” — that is, business efforts to fill job openings — has been low in this recovery. Employers may be posting openings, but they are not trying all that hard to fill them, say, by increasing job ads or offering better pay packages.
Corporate executives have valuable perspectives on the economy, but they also have an interest in promoting the notion of a skills gap. They want schools and, by extension, the government to take on more of the costs of training workers that used to be covered by companies as part of on-the-job employee development. They also want more immigration, both low and high skilled, because immigrants may be willing to work for less than their American counterparts.
This editorial appeared in the Times on Saturday. What’s interesting about this is that we are just five days away from a Senate hearing on reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, which is the major piece of legislation that authorizes government spending on workforce training. I’ll be interested to see how some of my colleagues in the workforce development field respond to this.