Real Skills, Unreal Expectations

Our workers just don’t have the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy, say America’s business leaders. Back to school with you! Well, maybe.

According to a recent report by the AAR (Allen Aircraft Radio) Corporation:

At a time of record high unemployment, profound skills gaps are delaying hiring by employers looking to fill thousands of open positions today. [This report] challenges perceptions that the economic recovery has suffered due to a lack of business investment in new jobs. Today, private sector companies positioned for growth are hamstrung by a shrinking pool of skilled workers to replace an aging workforce and fill new positions.

The solution? Well a lot of things should change, says AAR, but it’s got some specific suggestions:

Adoption of a nationally recognized portable aerospace sheet metal skills credential would go a long way toward helping employers set qualifications, assess skills and hire from the talent pool. In the meantime, AAR supports adoption of the NAM-endorsed Skills Certification System (SCS) by public school districts and community colleges. The (SCS) targets four critical skills levels that employers say present challenges to hiring and employee retention. The corresponding certifications align with secondary and postsecondary education to provide students with industry-relevant training along with a basic education.

While the report is very good at identifying areas where business can just step in and take initiative in this area it’s, understandably, still very interested in getting local education institutions to help meet business needs.

Whatever, this is just some made up problem, says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

This search for the perfectly trained worker, with his skill sets perfectly aligned to the precise needs of contemporary businesses, is bound to result in failure. Just train the workers. As Cappelli writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The real culprits are the employers themselves. With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right way, without any training or ramp-up time.

That’s because no matter what training one has or how smart one is, a new job is a new job, and it takes some time to learn how to do it. Companies typically teach new employees to do new tasks. They’ve always done so. They can continue to do so with the current crop of job seekers.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer