Please Stop Whining About the So Called Skills Gap

A Fake Problem With Two Easy Solutions

You saw this image coming from a mile away didn’t you?

I hate to be a naysayer yet again but the so called “skills gap” has got to be the dumbest made up “problem” since the robots and AIs were coming to take all our jobs. Of course that second one is still on the horizon. As you can no doubt tell from my tone, I am currently crapping my drawers just thinking about it. I don’t have enough space to dissect everything wrong with that ridiculous notion but the skills gap needs to be put to bed as the non-issue it really is or should be.

Businesses say “we can’t find people with the skills we need.” What they mean is “We can’t find people with the skills we need at the wages we are willing to pay.” Raise wages/compensation for these positions, and I mean substantially and the people they think aren’t out there, will magically appear at their doorstep. This supposed skill gap is only the latest and probably most successful tactic companies have yet devised to keep wages artificially low. It is ingenious because it has historically been more difficult to slow wage increases in high skill labor positions when demand is high. Not anymore, the “skills gap” does all the dirty work for them and they come out looking like innocent bystanders. Meanwhile the university system, or public schools, or video games, or whatever system/institution/thing that can be easily and conveniently scapegoated takes all the heat. Like I said ingenious. If it weren’t so downright greedy and ultimately self defeating I’d actually admire it.

The companies know some people are on to their game and when confronted respond with the classic “if we raise wages we would have to raise prices.” “Oh no, that’s terrible” says the host of whatever kiss ass business network show they happen to be on. The correct response is “Yes, and?” This is how business works, how supply and demand works, how capitalism works. The companies might counter with the tried and true “but the market simply won’t bear it.” The thing is “the market” they are referring too is not the market they imply it is, but rather it is the stock market, because what they really mean is “our investors won’t bear it because profits will decrease and our stock price will suffer.” Once again the correct response is “Yep, and?” We have been led to believe that profits must only go up, they can only go up. That is simply not true. In a healthy economy, a healthy system, a healthy market, sometimes profitability is flat or goes down. When this happens the only major downside (unless it happens economy wide all at the same time) is that John Q. Banker has to forgo his Saturday night eightball and hooker fest once a month. A bummer for the bankers, definitely some downside for the drug dealers and arguably also the hookers but the average man on the street feels no pain. In fact it is a huge win for the average man, especially the ones with those skills that supposedly do not exist, as they see their wages rise substantially. This in turn positively impacts everybody because unlike John Q. Banker they spend their money on things that actually help the economy like goods and services rather than drugs and hookers and REITs.

Of course I was being a bit over the top at the end there and of course I am vastly oversimplifying but I hope my point is taken. Even I am willing to concede that yes there may be some genuine cases where this is an actual problem. There is a really simple solution for that too. Hire the person who comes closest to meeting the need then INVEST in training them. It is no different than any other medium to long term investment. Yes, it comes with risk but that risk can be managed. Given the potential ROI the initial outlay is more than reasonable. It really is not hard. If these companies spent as much time thinking about wages and smart investing in human capital as they do whining about a fake “skills” gap the economy would be humming along and we’d all be better for it. But let me guess, “training is too expensive, we’d have to raise prices.” Egads, here we go again….

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