The news media does a great job of producing attention-grabbing headlines designed to shock readers. A recent headline on Bloomberg.com, Companies Say 3 Million Unfilled Positions in Skill Crisis, is a great example. Seeing the 3 million number is alarming, but are we really in a skilled labor crisis?
The amount of unfilled positions is reported by the Department of Labor and represents the number of jobs employers are trying to fill but can’t, likely due to a lack of particular skills. The 3 million headline number becomes more meaningful when you look at how it relates to the total number of people who are unemployed at different points in the economic cycle. Calculating this percentage shows the largest relative lack of skilled labor occurs when the economy is booming, which took place during the technology bubble in 1999-2000 and the financial crisis in 2007-08. At our current levels of 26%, near the low point since the data began being tracked, it’s hard to make an argument that we are facing a skilled labor crisis.
After clicking the headline, the article actually describes good examples of American ingenuity with the specific localized efforts companies are using to fill their skilled positions. We’ve also discussed in past blog articles, the coming rebound in residential construction which should trickle through the economy, lowering other unfilled skilled positions as well as overall unemployment. So even though the jobs picture still faces concerns, a skill crisis does not seem to be one of them.