We've been writing for quite a while about how plastics manufacturers are suffering from a "skills gap" -- many would like to expand and hire new workers, but they can't find qualified candidates. It's obviously a significant issue: There's plenty of solid and anecdotal evidence from processors -- and many are trying interesting strategies to deal with the issue (more on that in a minute). But there are experts who say the problem isn't what it appears. Today Adam Davidson, who writes the "It's the Economy" column for The New York Times Magazine, tries to blast a big hole in the "skills gap" story with his column, "Skills Don't Pay the Bills." The problem, according to Davidson, is that manufacturers don't want to pay a realistic wage for trained workers. "The secret behind this skills gap is that it's not a skills gap at all," says Davidson, who spoke to several factory managers who say they are having a hard time recruiting workers -- for jobs that offer $10 an hour. "It's hard not to break out laughing," says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center. "If there's a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages," he says. "It's basic economics." The fact is, the number of skilled jobs -- and wages for those jobs -- have fallen. But manufacturers can't be making up this skills gap problem, can they? One possible explanation is that the gap is real, but it's just not showing up yet in the government statistics. Alan Tonelson, an economist who is a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation, wrote on Facebook today: "Maybe the answer is that there's a labor market glitch that's emerged recently but that, over time, the standard responses (e.g., raising pay, finding technology and other labor substitutes) will restore balance. Of course, public policies that supported manufacturing realistically would really help the sector buy time and achieve its full potential." Davidson's conclusion is different, but equally plausible. He says there's a basic math and science skills gap facing the manufacturing industry. Too many young workers are unwilling to get the training that factories need for entry-level jobs. Part of the problem is that young people and their parents don't trust the future of U.S. manufacturing. They think factory jobs will be outsourced to China. It's a complicated issue, to be sure, and changing public opinion about manufacturing is tough. If you're looking help dealing with workforce training and hiring, check out the agenda for the upcoming Plastics News Executive Forum. The 2013 event is dubbed "The Leadership & Skills Summit," and it will focus entirely on the skills gap and workforce development.
Contrarian says 'skills gap' is a myth
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