TRAINERS AND EMPLOYERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SKILL GAP.
IS THIS TRUE?
The skill gap is real, according to the CEO of a company that studies the labor market, but some employers are making it worse by asking for more training than most employees need.
Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, spoke Wednesday at the Kansas Workforce Summit. His company analyzes job markets by collecting millions of job postings and resumes, looking for inefficiencies and gaps between skills workers have and those employers want.
Problems matching workers and companies stem from incorrect information and assumptions on multiple sides, Sigelman said: workers and the agencies that train them often don’t understand what employers actually need, and companies ask for credentials that may not actually show workers have the right skills.
States need to look most at how those problems apply to middle-skill jobs — those that require something more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree — Sigelman said. In 2014, employers posted 73,298 middle-skill jobs in Kansas, and more than 50 percent of them were in relatively high-paying areas such as health care, technical sales and information technology, he said.
Middle-skill jobs apparently were difficult to fill in many fields, since most categories had an average time to fill a job of 40 days or more, Sigelman said. Subfields like production jobs in the aerospace industry had an even more difficult time because many potential workers weren’t trained on the specific skills needed to make the airplane parts commonly assembled in Kansas, he said.
“If employers are starved for talent, that is a threat to the future of the aerospace industry in Kansas,” he said.
Another example is medical coding, Sigelman said. There is strong job growth in that field and many people have gone through training programs, but if the program doesn’t allow them to earn one of two relevant certificates, they aren’t employable.
“There’s a pipeline (of employees), but it’s leaking,” he said.
On the other hand, what employers ask for in their job postings doesn’t always reflect what workers need to do the job, Sigelman said. Employers are asking for applicants to have a bachelor’s degree when they didn’t require one in the past, and often it isn’t due to a need for more specific knowledge — employers were using it as a “proxy” for whether employees had foundational skills like writing and problem-solving, and consequently were having trouble finding workers, he said. That phenomenon is sometimes called “degree inflation,” because like financial inflation, it requires a person to have more and more to reach a desired result.
“Often we found the jobs that require a degree and those that don’t, the work’s no different,” he said. “The very folks that are driving this — the folks that are putting these credentials in their job postings — are getting hurt.”
Sigelman likened it to a person walking into a grocery store to buy 30 pounds of a rare fish for a party and being told it wasn’t available, let alone in that quantity. Employers need to recognize that if they want many applicants with specific skills, they need to work on making sure people in training programs know about that need, he said.
“You don’t stand there and say there’s a fish gap,” he said. “You could have had all the fish you wanted if you called ahead.”
That means schools and workforce development agencies need to respond to demand and train students for jobs where they can make a good salary and move up, but also point out when employers aren’t being realistic, Sigelman said. Often, employers and trainers can reach a solution when they agree on a credential that covers most or all of the relevant skills but doesn’t require a four-year commitment, he said.
“Where the credentials exist that have currency to employers, the pathway is there. The degree inflation goes away,” he said.