Mismatch between jobs and workers stems from 'education gap' not a 'skills gap'

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 7:52 p.m. MDT

Can better high school math and science fix the problem or do we need to overhaul the way we pay for graduate degrees? (shutterstock.com) Can better high school math and science fix the problem or do we need to overhaul the way we pay for graduate degrees? (shutterstock.com)

The national unemployment rate lingers around 8 percent while employers in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — struggle to find the highly skilled workers they need.

The Herchinger Report warns of a growing skills gap, but Planet Money's Adam Davidson argues the only real gap is the difference between employers' and workers' wage expectations for skilled labor.

Davidson said, "With the confluence of computers, increased trade and weakened unions, the social contract has collapsed, and worker-employer matches have become harder to make." He said workers are choosing to skip expensive and lengthy advanced training for jobs that might be outsourced anyway in favor of better-paying jobs in the fast-food industry.

For Davidson, this all comes down to an education gap at the high school level, adding that manufacturers say they are willing to train new workers, but they can't find high school graduates with the math and science knowledge they need to learn the jobs.

J Maureen Henderson, writing at Forbes.com, said that employers and college students would also benefit from education about current economic realities. "Employers cannot expect to recruit and retain the top-tier talent … with rock-bottom wages and college grads cannot expect that a four-year liberal arts education will … grant them access to the highly-paid careers of the next decade and beyond."

Meanwhile, Alex Jurek of Blog Critics argues against the current expectation that intelligent graduate students will incur mountains of debt for access to difficult academic programs and eventual higher pay. Jurek suggests the United States provide grants to allow students to gain STEM graduate degrees for free. A successful policy would pay for itself, Jurek said, as graduates rake in more and more taxable income.

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at gkrebs@deseretnews.com

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