The “Skills” Gap Is Actually The “Employers Too Picky” Gap

Knowledge @ Wharton: You also say part of the problem is that companies aren’t paying market wages. They’re trying to low-ball the job market. But why should they pay market wages when they can get employees cheaply?
Cappelli: Well, the thing is they can’t — that’s what they’re claiming, right? There’s a survey done by Manpower that asks employers if they’re having trouble finding people to hire. In that survey, about 11 percent say the problem they’re having is they can’t get people to accept the jobs at the wages they’re paying. So 11 percent are saying we’re not paying enough. If 11 percent admit this, my guess is the real number is probably double that. We’re not very good at identifying problems that we create ourselves. That’s certainly part of it. You know, maybe you can’t blame them for trying. But if they’re not finding [employees], don’t call it a skills gap; don’t call it a skills mismatch — you’re just being cheap.

— Peter Cappelli is the author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, and he argues that the reason we keep reading about companies being unable to fill open positions isn’t because of terrible applicants, unskilled and wrong-skilled, but because companies are pretty terrible at hiring. One point in particular he refutes: That the jobs-applying workforce has a skills-mismatch with jobs openings. I find this heartening. Annoying, obviously, but heartening. The applicants are alright.

He blames this pervasiveness of the myth in part on anecdotal news features about the jobs situation:

“Employers, when they say they’ve got a skills gap, that there are no applicants out there who meet their needs, they are self-diagnosing the situation. What’s really happening is they’re just not able to hire, but you don’t know why that is, right? And the skills-gap story is their diagnosis. It’s basically saying there’s nobody out there, when in fact, it turns out it’s typically the case that employers’ requirements are crazy; they’re not paying enough, or their applicant screening is so rigid that nobody gets through.”