Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 27, 2013

Stephen Dick: Blame employers for 'skills gap'

One of the hallmarks of the tepid economic recovery is something called a skills gap. Employers complain that they have jobs to fill and there is no one qualified to do them.

But the skills gap is a self-fulfilling fantasy conjured up by businesses and corporations to not only keep from hiring, but to place all of the burden of training for their jobs on individuals and the government. It’s another classic example of public costs and private profits.

I don’t contest the fact that there are manufacturing jobs out there that require intense training. And I have no doubt that the majority of applicants lack the necessary qualifications. But to listen to right-wing politicians and their big business backers blame it on lazy Americans who don’t want to work is a bridge too far.

Last week on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Mike Rowe — former host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” — talked about unqualified workers and how people don’t want to do jobs like plumbing anymore. He spoke of machinery company Caterpillar being unable to find qualified workers for its jobs. Of course, he didn’t say that Caterpillar has gone down the union-busting path and slashed wages.

I have a friend who was hired on at Progress Rail — a subsidiary of Caterpillar -- as a welder at $12 an hour. Welding is a skilled trade and, with a union, used to pay upwards of $25 an hour. Anytime there is a job fair in my neck of the woods — central Indiana — hundreds of applicants show up and most leave disappointed. If a new pizza joint opens and needs 25 workers, hundreds line up to fill out an application. People don’t want jobs? A right-wing myth to let employers off the hook for not hiring.

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