Bailey Smolarek: Skills Gap Doesn’t Account for Poor Jobs Numbers Here

June 20, 2017

Bailey Smolarek from the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions published an op-ed in The Capital Times.

From The Capital Times:

Dear Editor: Gov. Walker has pointed to a lack of skilled workers as the reason Wisconsin lost 3,800 manufacturing jobs last year.

While his response may have surprised some, the last year studying education and workforce skills Wisconsin Center for Education Research has shown me that job loss can rarely be explained so easily. Nevertheless, leaders throughout the country continue to use the idea of a “skills gap” — the gap between the skills employers need and the skills workers possess — to explain labor market concerns. Leaders like the governor use this narrative and blame workers for employment issues to keep workforce development conversations at the individual level.

However, the “skills gap” has already been debunked by numerous economists, who instead point to stagnated wages and a lack of quality job openings. Noble Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman even calls the skills gap a “zombie idea” because it is “an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.” Still, this idea continues to be resurrected to deflect attention from the real issues like employers having trouble hiring positions in less-desirable locations or with low wages. Moreover, manufacturing industries have also encountered a great deal of automation and outsourcing, making them quite cyclical and unpredictable.

The reality is that Wisconsinites are seeing limited numbers of well-paying jobs. UW-Milwaukee professor Marc Levine has shown that Wisconsin’s only labor market growth has been in low-wage positions. Furthermore, most economists argue that there is actually a growing number of overskilled workers.

Read more.