U.S. Employers Struggle To Match Workers With Open Jobs | KUOW News and Information

U.S. Employers Struggle To Match Workers With Open Jobs

Aug 31, 2017
Originally published on August 31, 2017 8:36 pm

In the United States, there's a record number of jobs open: around 6 million. That's just about one job opening for every officially unemployed person in the country.

Matching the unemployed with the right job is difficult, but there are some things employers could do to improve the odds.

Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist for the job site Glassdoor, says U.S. employers often complain that workers don't have the skills needed for the jobs available. That is true for some upper-level health care and technology jobs. "But for the most part, it doesn't look to be like there is a skills gap," Chamberlain says. "That's not the main reason why there are many job openings."

Chamberlain says that with unemployment so low and the U.S. labor force growing slowly, there's no doubt it is harder for companies to find workers. But he says if that were the main problem, you would see wages rising more rapidly in the economy — and that's not the case in many industries.

Part of the hiring problem, Chamberlain says, lies in company hiring policies.

Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, agrees. He says one problem is that companies are posting openings with required qualifications that aren't really necessary for the job.

"They're just asking for the moon, and not expecting to pay very much for it," Cappelli says. "And as a result they [can't] find those people. Now that [doesn't] mean there was nobody to do the job; it just [means] that there was nobody at the price they were willing to pay."

Jason Lorenz has seen that in his work at Human Technology Inc., a corporate recruiter that provides workers for firms in the Carolinas, many of which are parts manufacturers for Ford, GM and BMW. Lorenz says the companies come to him with a long checklist of qualifications, and he challenges them to get realistic.

"We understand that you would love to have that perfect employee, but give me a couple of things a successful candidate would look like for this specific job on this shift," Lorenz says.

For instance, he asks, do these candidates only need to show up on time, get along with co-workers and be able to lift 35 pounds, or do they need to be able to operate a computer?

Lorenz says another thing employers need to understand is that wages need to rise, even at entry levels, if they want to fill jobs. He says he is telling manufacturers, "If you are below $12 an hour, I don't know that I'm going to be the person to be able to help you with those jobs."

That's because in the past year, job openings have nearly doubled in western North Carolina where he works, and the supply of additional workers is shrinking fast.

Cappelli says another part of the problem is that employers haven't adjusted to new conditions. For years they've had their choice of workers desperate for a job. Now, the labor market has tightened, but many employers haven't responded, he says.

"Wages have not gone up despite all the talk about a tight labor market. And I think most important for the economy, we still don't see lots of employers being willing to take people in right out of school and train them for jobs," Cappelli says.

Lorenz says that is also the case at many companies he deals with. Companies anxious to meet quarterly earnings targets don't want to spend money training workers. That has left the ball in his court — so he finds workers and gets them enrolled in community college programs.

"Then we're able to move those folks from an entry-level position at the $10-to-$12 range and then promote them within those companies at the $16- to $17-an-hour range," Lorenz says.

Glassdoor's Chamberlain says it is important for companies to adjust their behaviors, for their own good.

"Every open position in the economy is money left on the table," he says. "It's a lost paycheck to a worker. It's also lost productivity to the company."

And it's lost growth for the U.S. economy.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Right now there's a record number of job openings in the U.S., around 6 million. That's just over one job opening for every officially unemployed person in the country. Matching that person with the right job is tough, though. As NPR's John Ydstie reports, employers could do more to improve those odds.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist for the online job site Glassdoor, says U.S. employers often complain that workers don't have the skills needed for the jobs available. He says that's true for some upper-level health care and technology jobs.

ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: But for the most part, it doesn't look to be like there is a skills gap. That's not the main reason why there are many job openings.

YDSTIE: Chamberlain says that with unemployment so low and the U.S. labor force growing slowly, there's no doubt it's harder for companies to find workers. But he says if that were the main problem, you'd see wages rising more rapidly in the economy. That's not been the case in many industries. Part of the problem, says Chamberlain, lies in company hiring policies. Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, agrees. He says one problem is that companies are posting openings that require qualifications that aren't really necessary for the job.

PETER CAPPELLI: They're just asking for the moon and not expecting to pay very much for it. And as a result, they couldn't find those people. Now, that didn't mean there was nobody to do the job. It just meant that there was nobody at the price they were willing to pay.

YDSTIE: Jason Lorenz says he's seen that in his work at Human Technology Incorporated (ph), a corporate recruiter that provides workers for firms in the Carolinas, many of them auto parts manufacturers. Lorenz says the companies come to him with a long checklist of qualifications. And he says...

JASON LORENZ: OK, we understand you would love to have that perfect employee, but give me a couple things that a successful candidate would look like for this specific job on this shift.

YDSTIE: For instance, he asks, do they really need to be able to operate a computer? Or do they only need to be able to lift 35 pounds? Lorenz says another thing that employers need to understand is that wages need to rise.

LORENZ: I'm telling manufacturers now if you're below $12 an hour, I don't know that I'm going to be the person to be able to help you with those jobs.

YDSTIE: That's because in the past year, job openings have nearly doubled in western North Carolina, where he works. And the supply of additional workers is shrinking fast. Wharton's Peter Cappelli says part of the problem is employers haven't adjusted to new conditions. For years they've had their choice of workers desperate for a job. Now the labor market has tightened, says Cappelli, but many employers haven't responded.

CAPPELLI: Wages have not gone up despite all the talk about a tight labor market. And I think most important for the economy, we still don't see lots of employers being willing to take people in right out of school and train them for jobs.

YDSTIE: Jason Lorenz says that's also the case with many companies he deals with. Companies anxious to meet quarterly earnings targets don't want to spend money training workers. That's left the ball in his court. So he finds workers and gets them enrolled in community college programs.

LORENZ: And then we're able to move those folks from, say, an entry level position at the $10 to $12 range and then promote them within those companies at the $16 to $17 an hour range.

YDSTIE: Glassdoor's Andrew Chamberlain says it is important for companies to adjust their behaviors for their own good.

CHAMBERLAIN: Every open position in the economy is money left on the table. It's a lost paycheck to a worker. It's also lost productivity to the company.

YDSTIE: And it's lost growth for the U.S. economy. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARC MOULIN'S "HUMPTY DUMPTY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.