Donald Trump went to Wisconsin today to tout the virtues of apprenticeship programs, which he claimed would give workers the skills they need to fill available jobs. Fortunately, the NYT had a good piece by Noam Scheiber that pointed out there is little evidence to support the view that the economy is suffering from a serious skills shortage.
The skills shortage is a recurring theme which businesses and pundit types routinely use to blame unemployment on workers rather than a lack of jobs in the economy. For example, here's a McClatchy News Service piece from August 2014 telling readers that the problem was a lack of worker skills and also the employer sanctions in Obamacare which discouraged businesses from hiring full-time workers. The economy has since added almost 7 million jobs and involuntary part-time employment has plummeted. (Voluntary part-time employment has risen by roughly two million, as Obamacare made it possible for workers to get health care insurance outside of employment.)
Oh, and here's NYT columnist Thomas Friedman in April of 2013. He spoke to the president of a technical college in North Carolina who Friedman quotes:
"'We have a labor surplus in this country and a labor shortage at the same time,' Green explained to me. Workers in North Carolina, particularly in textiles and furniture, who lost jobs either to outsourcing or the recession in 2008, often 'do not have the skills required to get a new job today' in the biotech, health care and manufacturing centers that are opening in the state.
"If before, he added, 'you just needed a high school shop class or a short postsecondary certificate to work in a factory, now you need an associate degree in machining,' a two-year program that requires higher math, I.T. and systems skills. In addition, some employers are now demanding that you not only have an associate degree but that nationally recognized skill certifications be incorporated into the curriculum to show that you have mastered the skills they want, like computer-integrated machining."
And here's J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon in January of 2014 explaining in a Washington Post interview that employers can't find workers with the skills they need. How about another dose on the skills mismatch from Thomas Friedman, this time from May of 2012, when the unemployment rate was still over 6.0 percent.
"The Labor Department reported two weeks ago that even with our high national unemployment rate, employers advertised 3.74 million job openings in March. That is, in part, about a skills mismatch."
And then we have a NYT article from July of 2010, near the bottom of the Great Recession, the headline of which told readers, "...factory jobs return, but employers find skills shortage."
So there you have it, the evergreen story. There is a substantial segment of elite types who are always happy to hear about the skills shortage as an explanation for unemployment. See, the problem is not the state of the economy and its poor management by economists, the problem is always the ill-trained workers. You don't need evidence for this one, just assert that the problem is workers don't have the right skills and furrow your brow in a concerned manner. Works every time.