Employers Are Complaining About A Skills Gap, But That's a Good Problem to Have


Since the Great Recession, our economy has gained a lot of ground. Americans are getting back to work, currently 6.5 million jobs are unfilled in America right now. In fact, the shortage of workers is so widespread that employers are complaining about not being able to find employees with the right qualifications.

But is that really a problem? Not according to economist Michael Strain, who explains that the "shortage" of workers, or the "skills gap" is a good problem to have, especially for prospective employees.

A labor market in which businesses complain about the difficulty of finding workers is welcome news following the hardships suffered by workers in the Great Recession and its aftermath. If employers are chasing employees rather than the other way around, fantastic.

Because of this shortage, employers are reducing barriers to employment in the hope of finding people to fill their positions. For example, many employers no longer require background checks on applicants. The areas with the largest drop in that requirement are occupations like maids, housekeepers and custodians. Still, many businesses are complaining that they cannot find people to fill their positions.

This complaint is perennial. You’re hearing it now, when unemployment is 3.9 percent. But you also heard it in the summer of 2014, for example, when unemployment was more than 6 percent. The Manufacturing Institute surveyed manufacturers and found that over 80 percent reported a shortage of skilled workers available for hire — in 2011, when the unemployment rate hovered around 9 percent.

Many businesses seem to be looking for "the one" for these positions, but the reality is the ones applying for the jobs don't always have the exact skills, so they have to be taught.

In many cases, hiring workers who are not a perfect fit and making some investment in training will pay off. It might also engender more company loyalty among workers, making them less likely to leave after just a short time, and allowing businesses to profit further from their investment. In addition, making better use of “probationary period” compensation packages and community colleges to provide training could help address this issue.

As Strain concludes, employers may need to offer more to workers in order to fill the positions, and that may involve offering higher wages, especially since that's one of the areas of our economy that is lagging right now.