Unemployment stays high as employers struggle to find skilled workers

06.15.2012


Unemployment stays high as employers struggle to find skilled workers
Unemployment stays high as employers struggle to find skilled workers

A new study conducted by the Chicago Federal Reserve confirms what many employers have been saying for years: That there is a concerning shortage of skilled workers in certain industries, which is contributing to high unemployment rates and staffing difficulties.

According to Reuters, the skills mismatch has taken the limelight in the unemployment issue, and the recent findings show top Fed officials, including chairman Ben Bernanke, say the problem can be allayed through monetary policy. However, others say the skills shortage problem can't be fixed this way, as central banks only have the potential to lower unemployment when it stems from lower demand for jobs - which is not the case.

The demand is there, employers say, they just can't find the workers to fill the jobs. U.S. manufacturing companies currently have 600,000 unfilled positions due to a lack of talent, according to a Deloitte study. While these unfilled positions are making a huge impact on the recovery - which has been heavily leaning on the industry for support - the gap pervades through many other sectors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unfilled job openings has been on a steady increase since 2009, with 3.7 million vacant positions in March 2012, up from 3.2 million in the same period last year.

Small businesses may be feeling the brunt of the skills shortage, Reuters reports. According to data from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), these small- and medium-sized companies are reporting that the current climate is the hardest in which to find skilled workers to fill open positions. This week, the NFIB announced that the number of small businesses reporting difficulty attracting the right talent rose in May to its highest level since June 2008.

Jason Faberman, a senior economist at the Chicago Fed, said the positions suffering most from the skills gap include dental assistants, electricians, legal secretaries, personal recruiters and recreation workers.

"The middle-skilled jobs have the highest demand for labor and also the lowest employment growth," he said. "That is consistent with the skills mismatch story."

A number of solutions have been proposed to confront the skills gap, from on-site training to increasing the prevalence of vocational training in high schools, which aim to prepare the U.S. workforce and bring unemployment down to pre-recession levels.