From Paul <[email protected]>
Subject Why the “skills gap” doesn’t really exist
Date October 10, 2021 10:31 PM
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There’s no question that American workers are taking home smaller paychecks than they used to. Before the pandemic, a study found that nearly half of Americans are stuck in low-wage jobs – even though productivity levels have skyrocketed over the past few decades.

Trickle-downers, like always, blame the workers, and not the rich folks signing the checks, for their low wages. They say that American workers in low-wage jobs are unskilled. Their argument is that if we educate American workers, wages will rise and we’ll overcome the so-called “skills gap.” 

In the latest episode of “Pitchfork Economics,” UNC Chapel Hill professor Nichola Lowe explains the problem with the “skills gap” theory. She tells us that although 50% of American working adults don’t have college degrees, that doesn’t mean half of the adult labor force is “unskilled.” The real issue is that the labor market mis-classifies certain workers as unskilled and doesn’t value their work. 

When the pandemic caused businesses to send employees to work from home or stop their operations entirely, Americans all saw who the real essential workers were. It isn’t the corporate CEOs who keep the country running; it’s the supposedly “unskilled” workers. “Essential workers” that don’t require degrees, like plumbers, firefighters, or construction workers aren’t classified as “skilled.” But the truth is, every job demands skill from workers – the only difference, as far as pay is concerned, is where those skills were learned.

In addition to undervaluing half of their workforce, American employers have stopped providing employees with on-the-job training. That old American ideal of the employee who starts at a low-paying job in the mail room and works their way up to the corporate boardroom simply doesn’t exist. Instead, these companies rely on ever-more-stringent educational requirements that disqualify applicants before they have an opportunity to prove themselves. Essentially, they’re outsourcing education to external institutions like universities – rather than investing in on-the-job training.

Employers have been throwing away generations of potential lifetime employees who could be more productive, more invested, and more knowledgeable about company culture. That’s a loss for everyone – not just those we’ve relegated to the bottom of the economy.

That’s why Lowe is advocating for employers to start investing in employee education again. After hearing this conversation on “Pitchfork Economics,” I know what I think about the so-called “skills gap,” but I want to hear your thoughts, John. Please, take part in our live poll by answering the following question:

Should more employers provide on-the-job training? 

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Thanks for defending working Americans from trickle-downers and exploitative corporations. We really appreciate your support.


Are you fired up to finally build an economy that works for all Americans? Ready to learn more from the world’s leading economic and political thinkers? Listen to the Pitchfork Economics podcast now!

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