Are We Short of Skilled Workers, or Is it Just a Training Problem?

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There’s been a little debate going on in the comments here on TLNT about this post from a couple of days ago titled Starting Salaries to Rise Next Year as Talent Gets Harder to Find. And this debate, like so many others going on in these tough times, is about whether there is really a shortage of workplace talent.

Here’s what one comment had to say:

I guess we have a serious problem with our university system then if we’re graduating so many unqualified engineers and nurses to take on these so-called hard-to-fill jobs… There are many college graduates in tech fields without jobs now. Are those college grads all inherently bad? Or are companies just wanting to hire ready-made employees that require little to no training? If that’s the case, then what incentive is there to get a college degree if you’re not even considered qualified for the jobs available?”

An answer to our worker skills problem

This gets back to the ongoing debate we have going on right now. Yes, there are lots of unemployed workers who are available out there — the jobs deficit (the number of unemployed plus new workers being added) is at 11.1 million — but employers say that many of those people don’t have the right skill sets for the jobs they are looking to fill. National unemployment is at 9.1 percent, while the hardest hit states (like California) are closer to 12 percent.

Is there an answer here? Peter Cappelli says there is.

Dr. Cappelli is the George W. Taylor professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources. The week in The Wall Street Journal, he tried to answer the question Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need.

Here’s what he had to say:

Even with unemployment hovering around 9%, companies are grousing that they can’t find skilled workers, and filling a job can take months of hunting.

Employers are quick to lay blame. Schools aren’t giving kids the right kind of training. The government isn’t letting in enough high-skill immigrants. The list goes on and on.

But I believe that the real culprits are the employers themselves.

With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time.

In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already. It’s a Catch-22 situation for workers—and it’s hurting companies and the economy.

To get America’s job engine revving again, companies need to stop pinning so much of the blame on our nation’s education system. They need to drop the idea of finding perfect candidates and look for people who could do the job with a bit of training and practice.”

The talent shortage is an “illusion”

According to Dr. Cappelli, the talent shortage we keep hearing about is an illusion. That because some of the talent shortage complaints “boil down to the fact that employers can’t get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered. That’s an affordability problem, not a skill shortage.” he adds:

There are plenty of people out there who could step into jobs with just a bit of training — even recent graduates who don’t have much job experience… Unfortunately, American companies don’t seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand.”

He’s got a lot more to say about all of this — you should read his entire article here — and it seems to make a lot of sense. Organizations could find plenty of workers for those hard-to-fill jobs, he feels, if they would just change their thinking and invest a little more in training and development.

Do you buy his premise? Some will and some won’t, but either way, it’s a debate we should be having in every workplace as talent management and HR professionals struggle to fill the jobs they do have open with the best possible people available. Somehow, I don’t think that discussion will be going away anytime soon.

For the rest of Dr. Peter Cappelli’s Wall Street Journal article, click here.