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Science Careers Blog

November 18, 2011

Employers to Blame for "Illusion" of Skills Shortage, Says Business Expert

I'm a bit late to the party, but I only just became aware of an illuminating Wall Street Journal article  published in October that explains why so many employers claim they can't find skilled workers (and may need to import them from abroad) while so many highly educated people can't find jobs.  "I believe that the real culprits are the employers themselves,"  writes Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious Wharton School, one of the nation's leading business schools. 

"The perceptions about a lack of skilled workers are pervasive," he continues. " The staffing company ManpowerGroup, for instance, reports that 52% of U.S. employers surveyed say they have difficulty filling positions because of talent shortages." he continues.  "But the problem is an illusion."

One source of the so-called "problem," Cappelli notes, is that employers "want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time."  Instead of bad-mouthing the schools and hunting futilely for applicants perfect in every respect, they need to get back to the long-establishing practice of hiring "people who could do the job with a bit of training and practice."  

A second source of the problem comes "down to the fact that employers can't get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered.  That's an affordability problem, not a skills shortage," he explains.  In a shortage, you can't meet demand for a commodity at any price, not just at the price you want to pay.  The fact that diamonds cost a lot doesn't mean that there's a shortage, Cappelli notes.  "We can buy all we want at the prevailing prices."

Capelli offers a number of valuable suggestions, most having to do with employers helping available workers get the exact skills that companies need.  This approach "vastly expands the supply of talent that employers can tap, making it both cheaper and easier to fill jobs."  It also helps workers and builds the nation's human capital.  In this way, he notes, "company self-interest and societal interest just happen to collide."

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