When the New York Times publishes a scathing editorial against the whole notion of a skills gap, it alarms me, because so much of adult education and training advocacy has coalesced around this idea. It also alarms me because whatever the economic data tells us about the root causes of unemployment, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we still have a substantial number of people who are trying to improve their basic skills, enroll in job training programs, and/or acquire industry credentials. We wouldn’t have waiting lists for services if this wasn’t the case.
Many economists have been arguing for some time that the skills gap has not been a major cause of unemployment. But a case for investing in skills doesn’t need to be dependent on this argument. I’ve often cited an old blog post from Jared Bernstein as an example of a way to argue for skills that isn’t dependent on proof of a skills gap.
The Times piece suggests that skills gap arguments will be increasingly met with skepticism. It’s going to be important not to let that turn into an argument against investing in skills altogether.