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“Shortage” is Not Exactly Right

Here is a recent article in which the mainstream press reports on manufacturing’s difficulty with finding and hiring enough skilled employees.

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Here is a recent article in which the mainstream press reports on manufacturing’s difficulty with finding and hiring enough skilled employees. I know this difficulty is real; we’ve reported on it, too. However, I think the premise that there is literally a “shortage” of skilled manufacturing talent is incomplete. After all, manufacturers could go to Michigan to recruit—paying bonuses and/or relocation costs for the currently unemployed talent living there. They could also create training centers themselves, finding the strong but untrained candidates around them and imparting all of the necessary skills. Of course, these steps would be expensive, which is why many manufacturers do not take them (though some do). Thus, it’s not true there is a “shortage” of skilled workers. There is instead a shortage of skilled workers at a certain price.

Such is the way of the world. In making this point, I am not suggesting that the employers are cheap. Far from it—every business has to live within a certain economic margin, or else it will cease to employ anyone at all. Furthermore, taking on employees has, if anything, gotten riskier. Economic circumstances are unreliable, and we as a nation have heaped more burdens onto the employer/employee relationship. For these reasons, I think it falls to the nation—in the form of our government—to shoulder much more of the risk of employee development.

Specifically, the government ought to subsidize training. But doing so should not take today’s form of reimbursing the students themselves—because this leaves no firm connection to a job. Rather, it would make more sense, and it would be better all-around for our society, if employers were compensated for the investments they make in cultivating new employees for actual jobs. I first wrote about this opinion about a year ago; read more here.