The Help Wanted Problem

This Business Week story on why 3 million job openings mean bad news for America caught my eye.

As Business Week argues, all these open jobs provide “evidence of an emerging structural shift in the U.S. economy that has created serious mismatches between workers and employers.”

It seem like BW is soft-pedaling the obvious — a lot of the open jobs sound like low-level or low-salary jobs. The bulk of the open jobs are in services: education, healthcare, professional and business services. My guess is many of them don’t pay well and require extensive training (like teaching or nursing), so it will take time to fill them. My experience is that high-level jobs are open, but they often combine unusual mixes of skills and experience — in fact, they are trying to jumble together what should be multiple jobs, and find one person that will do them, for not as much money as either job would’ve paid before the downturn.

Certainly, the kinds of jobs being lost don’t match well with jobs that are open. Meanwhile, the housing bust means people who might fill some of those jobs are trapped in their houses, unable to move.

The solution? Retrain workers. The government and employers both need to invest in training. Even so, says Business Week, “workers and employers will have to accept harsh new realities: lower pay for workers starting new careers, and imperfect fits for employers filling vacancies.”

Business Week notes that there is $3.5 billion in the stimulus package for training. Let’s hope it helps people shift to whatever jobs will be left. Perhaps it’ll help some of those laid-off IBM workers move to India.

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