New EPI report pokes more holes in the skills gap myth

By Matthew McMullan

The skills gap.

Despite an unemployment rate that remains high, there are thousands upon thousands of jobs available that employers can’t fill. Companies just can’t find workers with the right skill sets.

You may have read something similar in an opinion section somewhere. That’s because the idea of a manufacturing sector skills gap has been perpetuated to great effect in recent years. See here, and here, and here.

Bear in mind, there is plenty of skepticism directed toward this notion already. But an interesting brief published this week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) adds more. Here are the key findings of a survey undertaken by MIT’s Paul Osterman and Andrew Weaver:

  • While skill requirements are real—a strong back no longer suffices—the skills manufacturers seek are at the community college level or below, well within the reach of the vast majority of Americans.
  • Only a minority of manufacturing establishments report difficulty recruiting the employees they need.
  • Persistent unemployment in the manufacturing sector is more likely driven by inadequate demand than by any form of mismatch.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) certainly believes that the connection between manufacturing jobs and those looking for work could be improved, but it’s not a skills gap that has left millions unemployed. It’s a jobs gap. And while many a public official will point out that America has gained a substantial number of manufacturing jobs since 2010, it lost exponentially more in the preceding decade. That means we’re still way down in the jobs hole. All of those displaced workers didn't just become outdated overnight.

Furthermore, government data showing job openings and turnover in the manufacturing sector shows that the number of unfilled positions is nowhere near the self-reported 600,000 figure. And in the end, if businesses out there are so concerned about qualifications of the applicants they’re seeing, they could spend a little more money on training.

That said: We should applaud those companies that are proactively seeking new workforce talent. Maybe their competition could learn a thing or two about how to fill open positions.

Check out the report by Osterman and Weaver here.