Don’t Blame A ‘Skills Gap’ For Lack Of Hiring In Manufacturing

Sep 11, 2016

U.S. factories are hiring again. Or they’re trying to, anyway. Manufacturers posted 379,000 job openings in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. That’s up more than 280 percent — close to quadruple — since the recession ended more than seven years ago.

When it comes to actually filling those jobs, though, the rebound has been far more gradual. Hiring is up just 36 percent since the end of the recession and has been pretty much flat over the past year. Tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs are going unfilled.

What’s behind that gap? The Wall Street Journal last week offered a simple explanation: Companies can’t find enough skilled workers. Manufacturing jobs have become more technical, but workers haven’t kept up. That’s left companies with a glut of low-skilled workers and a shortage of applicants who can really do the job.

This “skills mismatch” theory is a favorite of corporate executives and the think tanks they fund. But it is based on scant evidence. Individual companies may be struggling to fill specific jobs, but the data shows little sign of an industrywide shortage of skilled workers. In fact, it’s not clear that companies are really trying hard to fill many of these jobs at all.

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