This view of the nation’s economic challenges
distracts us from more productive ways of
thinking about skills and economic growth while
promoting unproductive hand-wringing.
employer-provided training. In this
regard, my survey results do give cause
The manufacturing survey data indicate that only half of U.S. plants provide
formal training to their production workers. By contrast, in the 1990s—the last
period for which nationally representative
survey data on training are available— 70
to 80 percent did so. Meanwhile, only 52
percent of IT help desks have relationships with institutions from which they
hire workers or receive training services.
For clinical labs, the absence of a local
training institution is a significant predictor of hiring di;culties.
Instead of fretting about a skills gap,
we should be focused on the real challenge of knitting together the supply and
demand sides of the labor market. Thinking about the real financial and institutional mechanisms necessary to make,
say, apprenticeships work is far more productive than perennially sounding alarms
about under-skilled workers.
A final point is worth making on technology and the fear that robots will steal
all the jobs. Occupations evolve as technology advances. Help-desk technicians
once spent more time on tasks like password resets than they do today. Despite
the automation of such functions, computer problems—and the occupation that
tackles them—continue to expand.
The danger is not that we will run out
of tasks humans can usefully perform
or that required skill levels will be catastrophically high; it’s that misguided anxiety about skill gaps will lead us to ignore
the need to improve coordination between
workers and employers. It’s this bad coordination—not low-quality workers—that
presents the real challenge.
Andrew Weaver is an assistant professor
in the School of Labor and Employment
Relations at the University of Illinois at