“I don’t understand why we,after all these decades,are still having the mismatch conversation,” Ray Suarez,PBS NewsHour correspondent,said.
Employers complain they can’t find job applicants with the right skills,and some people are being trained for jobs that don’t exist.
Suarez,who moderated the discussion at the Aspen Institute,compared the mismatch to an imbalance of Italian restaurants in Manhattan.
“That would be shaken out,” he said. “If there were too many or not enough,the marketplace would respond with tremendous sensitivity and speed. Yet,employers still say they can’t find what they need,and workers are getting trained for skills that nobody wants to buy. I don’t know how that happens in 2011.”
According to an International Monetary Fund report published in May,the skills mismatch increased 17 percent on average throughout the country since the beginning of the recession. The mismatch in states where manufacturing has accounted for a significant part of gross state product is at or near peak historic levels.
The mismatches continued to rise nationwide after the recession ended. The report states that the sustained high unemployment rate can be partly blamed on that escalation.
However,Adriana Kugler,chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor,said in an interview that the immediate issue is whether employers are hiring at adequate wages.
If employers weren’t finding people with the right skills,Kugler said they would be bidding up their wages to compete for qualified employees.
“And that’s just not happening,” she said.
During the recession,there was a cycle of businesses unable to hire because of low spending,and people unable to spend because they couldn’t find jobs.
Kugler said the gross domestic product rose 2.6 percent in the third-quarter due to more personal consumption and investment spending. Businesses making profits,she said,aren’t taking the next step to hire.
Robert Walsh,New York Small Business Services commissioner,and Ernesto Cortés Jr.,Industrial Areas Foundation co-director,said at the panel discussion that more programs are needed to help individuals get into jobs that can sustain them for a lifetime.
“We have a focus,instead,on short-term,low-paying jobs,” Cortés said.
He said if people are trained only to work for Toyota or Boeing they won’t be able to adapt if that job goes away.
Previously,training programs were designed on the philosophy of getting employees through only the first stage of their employment,leaving the rest up to the employer.
Those days are gone,Cortés said.
Instead employers want workers with an array of skills.
“Those jobs don’t come,unfortunately,from the training programs that do exist,” he said.
The IMF report found that low-skilled individuals with a high-school diploma or less who were 25 years old or older were hit particularly hard. One in seven without a high school diploma and one-tenth of high school graduates were unemployed.
Kugler said structural unemployment – the result of skills mismatch – is a long-term issue and the Labor Department does much of the work to resolve it. But to make a dent in the unemployment rate,employers are going to have to offer better wages.
“There’s always some skill mismatch,whether you’re in a recession or an expansion,” she said. “If you don’t pay the right salaries and benefits,people aren’t going to be attracted to these jobs.”
Reach reporter Hope Rurik at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire