Skills Shortages

On September 13, 2012, in HR Trends, HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

Skills Shortages - by John Sumser - HRExaminer

The unseen hand that guides the demographic market (the workforce) is not primarily moved by economics.

Skills Shortages

Around the planet, people are starting to notice imbalances between the workforce and the available jobs. There seems to be an abundance of candidates and a simultaneous shortage of candidates who fit. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a problem like this. However, this time it looks predictably bedeviling.

This being an election year, there is no shortage of opinion about the size and importance of the problem. Unsurprisingly, the political dialog about causes and solutions mirror the parties views of everything else. Apparently knowing who to blame and engaging in heated debates about how the already insolvent government is going to either muster an investment or stay out of Dodge is the key to being elected.

If there was an ongoing heating oil shortage, you could bottle the hot air and sell it this winter in the North.

There are five competing views of the problem:

  • The offshoring demons sent the work elsewhere
  • Immigrants showed up and took all the good jobs (with its corollary: lazy people would rather stay on welfare)
  • Bad managers are too picky when there is an abundance of choice
  • The education system failed
  • Technology acceleration is disrupting everything it touches

The story is complicated by the fact that national mobility is driven by the way that like-minded people group themselves together (see yesterday’s review of American Nations by Colin Woodard) Migration patterns are the unfolding of underlying patterns of culture rather than a rational organization of a ready built workforce. The unseen hand that guides the demographic market (the workforce) is not primarily moved by economics. Family, network and roots drive the sorts of decision making that lowers mobility rates.

Every company, in some way, deals with the reality of the labor market in their region. It’s always an imperfect fit. Regional cultures are simply not perfect supply chains for agile maneuvers by the organizations who share the region. The combination of skills availability and ;local market prices for labor are at the root of a fair amount of outsourcing decision making.

This issue is complex and doesn’t give way to easy analysis or answers. Journalists and policy makers both look for easy explanations to dynamic systems problems. It doesn’t help much.

The June 2012 Atlantic includes an article that tries to answer the problem by looking at labor demand. The analysis shows no difference in demand for labor based on skill. The problem with these sorts of quick hit views is that they don’t shred the data for its regional implication.

Anyone who doesn’t think there’s a shortage hasn’t tried to hire a nurse or a software developer recently. Various un sexy industries (largely in the energy, mining and utilities sectors) witnesses the problem daily.

The Australian Government has the most proactive set of measures to solve skills shortages. The problem is easier to see and quantify in small markets with precise needs. One can easily see the role a government might play.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll look at the question from a number of different angles. Are you seeing skills shortages in your neighborhood?

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