I won't say there is no skills gap. In Massachusetts alone, right now there are about 250,000 unemployed people and at the same time about 130,000 unfilled jobs with the employers reporting that they cannot find skilled workers. No, I won't say there is no gap. There is obviously a gap. The other thing that's obvious, at least to me, is that the problem isn't a gap of skill. The solution to a skills gap is always training and we are really good at training. We are Really Good at Training
One program I'm involved with has trained almost 200 people to become operators of computer controlled manufacturing equipment over the past few years. In this program, we help long term unemployed people gain highly sought after skills in a very short time. In a period of about 9 weeks, we can enable someone who has never been in a manufacturing facility to get a job as a CNC machine tool operator with basic programming and setup skills.
VIDEO: Advanced Manufacturing at WPI
By the graduation day, for any session of this class, almost every trainee already has a job. The rest typically have one within a few weeks. We've even had one local employer hire 10 out of 12 trainees from a session of the class before it even started. No, training isn't the problem, we can do training.
We can do training, but 200 is a drop in the bucket compared to the 130,000 potential jobs out there and that is just in Massachusetts. When we started this project I assumed that the cost of delivering the training and our ability to fund it would be the limiting factor in the number and frequency of classes we could offer. The actual limit on the other hand has been our ability to sign up qualified candidates.
It's not that the other 249,800 unemployed people in the state are too stupid to complete our training; on the contrary, most of the people not applying could fly through the class.
The primary problem with our class is that people aren't interested in careers in manufacturing. They think those jobs are dirty and beneath them. They might love to watch Mike Rowe, but they don't want a "Dirty Job."
This is especially sad because, although there are dirty jobs in manufacturing, those aren't the ones the employers are having trouble filling. Hungry people with no skills take those jobs. The jobs that sit unfilled are good jobs with good salaries. In the program mentioned above, the placement rate is over 90% and the starting salaries average close to $37,000 per year. These are well paying jobs in good industries making the things our society needs to exist. If the problem was simply one of skills, we would have solved it years ago with programs like this one.
It's a perception gap, not a skills gap, that we need to cross.