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Greedy angry pig man in a suit.
"You'll be a computer programming machinist
for $10 an hour, and you'll like it."
The New York Times' Adam Davidson notices that the alleged "skills gap" that's leaving many employers supposedly unable to find the skilled workers they need to fill job openings isn't quite as it's billed. Davidson visited engineering technology classes in which students learn such a complicated set of skills that "today’s skilled factory worker is really a hybrid of an old-school machinist and a computer programmer." Yet many employers aren't offering the wages of either an old-school machinist or a computer programmer:
Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.

As Paul Krugman succinctly follows up, "what you really want to ask is why American businesses don’t feel that it’s worth their while to pay enough to attract the workers they say they need."

Davidson cites recent research by the Boston Consulting Group finding just this: The wages offered for manufacturing jobs are not going up enough to suggest a serious skills gap. In fact, the BCG estimates that the U.S. is short by 80,000 to 100,000 skilled manufacturing workers—hardly the stuff of campaign-trail and media fretting about a giant skills gap. That echoes previous studies finding that shortages of skilled workers are in fact small and concentrated in a few specific industries and regions. Additionally, employer recruiting intensity has remained low in recent years.

Yeah, if employers demand that workers with large skill sets obtained through expensive educations come work for $10 an hour and have no taint of union exposure in their lives, it's going to be hard to find enough skilled workers. But that's about the employers, not the workers—and any journalist who reports as if it's otherwise is showing ignorance or subservience to power.

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