Of skills and shortages

In one of her recent end of year posts, [Audrey Watters discusses skills] (http://2014trends.hackeducation.com/skills.html). She mentions the regularly mentioned notion of a skills shortage, where employers, particularly those seeking workers with technical skills, can’t find qualified workers. The more I think about this, the more dubious it sounds.

We think of the labor market just like we think about markets for smartphones and commodities. These markets are supposed to be responsive to the law of supply and demand. If there is a shortage of plumbers or machinists,or insert occupation here , the price of that worker (in wages, benefits, and perks) will rise until more workers are attracted to the occupation at the new price point. So, is a shortage really a shortage? After all, the unemployment rate is still almost 6 percent and , once you add in discouraged workers and those employed part-time out of necessity, there would seem to be many potential workers who could fill these hard to fill positions eventually.

Eventually is an important word. Since these positions are skilled, it takes time for would be machinists, clowns, etc. to retrain, creating a lag. As Audrey points out, employers used to deal with this lag by hiring someone, then training them. Now, employers expect to hire individuals who are work ready, as [Cait Murphy points out] (http://www.inc.com/magazine/201404/cait-murphy/skills-gap-in-the-labor-force.html). Workers are now expected to acquire the skills they need at their own expense, rather than being paid while they receive on the job training. This moves the supply curve. If you’ve been out of the workforce while retraining, and especially if you’ve acquired debt to fund that training, you’re less likely to be demanding about salary, benefits, and working conditions.

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