Posted by: Tom Ross | November 16, 2011

Or Is It a Training Gap?

A few posts back I presented a list of news articles and recent reports addressing the issue of the “skills gap.” Employers were claiming that despite the unemployment rate, there are jobs to be had, just not the adequately trained people to fill them.  The bad news is that they imply that schools are not preparing students to work in the real world. (The good news is this makes a strong case for CTE programs in K-14.)

But several recent articles have attempted to put the shoe on the other foot.

Peter Cappelli of the Wall Street Journal writes: “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.”

He goes on to say that the real problem is employer inflexibility: employers need to be realistic with the salaries they offer and design job descriptions so that employees with a wider variety of education and skill sets can qualify.  “Only about 10% of the people in IT jobs during the Silicon Valley tech boom of the 1990s, for example, had IT-related degrees.”

Plenty of people, he says, even recent graduates, just need a little training to meet the needs of the job, especially since more students today are focusing their coursework to specialized areas—thanks to the influence of career education.

Cappelli has three suggestions:

  • employers need to partner with community colleges and provide input in course design and outcomes;
  • create apprenticeships or long-term probationary periods, both with lower pay if necessary;
  • and create greater upward mobility within the industry: hire from within and, again, provide the necessary training.

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 follow-up to this article also presents a case for who’s to blame. 

Roger Bybee, in an article for Common Dreams, believes two things:

  • that the problems are much smaller than they are made out to be, citing a recent survey that shows only 5% of manufacturing jobs are presently unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants, and
  • that corporations are to blame for hypocritically blaming the schools while at the same time avoiding paying their fair share of taxes (money that would help schools continue to improve).

Pretty heady stuff.

Walt Gardner writes in Education Week, “the complaint raises the age-old question about the purpose of education. Business has always wanted schools to train their employees so that it doesn’t have to. A survey by Nielsen Co. of 100 top executives at U.S. manufacturing companies found that they expect to spend at least $100 million each over the next five years to fill the gaps left by retiring baby boomer factory workers (Skills gap looms at U.S. factories as boomers retire, The Globe and Mail, Sept. 8). “

Gardner continues: “Education, however, is more than just about preparing students for the workplace. This is particularly so because as many as 80 percent of the jobs that kindergartners will hold as adults don’t yet exist, according to remarks made by futurist Ed Barlow before the Industrial Asset Management Council in Oct. 2007. Of course, neither Barlow nor anyone else knows what the future holds, a point underscored by Christopher L. Doyle in “Let’s Stop Forecasting 21st-Century Skills (Commentary, Education Week, Sept. 14).”

Someone does. In a Wall Street Journal article, Ben Casselman predicts that time will correct the discrepancy: “That kind of mismatch between what employers want and what workers have to offer is a classic example of what economists call a “structural” issue in the labor market. In time, workers will develop the skills the job market needs—or employers will readjust their needs to the skills workers have available—but that process is slow.”

In an interesting and finally inspiring aside about corporate involvement in schools and employee training (to show that all the news isn’t bad, even when the hook tries to be), a recent study by the National Education Policy Center warns that corporate sponsorship in schools can be harmful because it can “create student experiences and shape student attitudes in ways that support, or at least do not undermine, the corporate bottom line.” But what I find hopeful is how schools are proving they are smarter than that. Teachers find that such sponsorship inspires critical thinking in their students about industries as well as helps create partnerships that generate money for the schools. (All you might have to do is rename your gymnasium.) And in return, the schools provide classroom space for corporate worker training during the summer when they are normally empty.

Did someone say worker training?


  1. […] Skills Gap? ( Transformation Of American Factory Jobs, In One Company ( Is It a Training Gap? ( as: business, employment, Human resources, Junior Achievement, […]

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