Revisiting Claims Of “Skill Mismatches”
Writing for The Atlantic, journalist Barbara Kivit calls into question the claim that a lack of employable skills hamstrings American workers.
Dig deeper into what employers say, though, and the skills mismatch gets complicated. A 2011 employer survey from the Manufacturing Institute found that the top skill deficiency among manufacturing workers was “inadequate problem-solving skills.” No. 3 on the list was “inadequate basic employability skills (attendance timeliness, work ethic, etc.).” In the 2012 Manpower survey, 26% of employers complained about the lack of such “soft skills.” If the American workforce doesn’t show up on time or think outside the box, that may be a problem — but probably not one solved by more math, science, and technical training, the go-to remedies.
The Manpower survey also suggests another possibility. When firms were asked why they have difficulty hiring, 55% picked “lack of available applicants,” but essentially the same percentage, 54%, said candidates are “looking for more pay than is offered” (many more than the 40% selecting lack of “hard” skill). This is an important reminder that the labor market is a market. The U.S. conversation revolves around whether workers have the right skills. Whether firms are willing to pay enough to compensate workers for having acquired those skills is rarely mentioned. When firms post job openings at a certain wage and no one comes forward, we call this a skills mismatch. In a different universe, we might call it a pay mismatch.