Why good people cannot get jobs – my critique

Why Good People Cannot Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It

Peter Cappelli

I have taken some quotes and commented on them. But for the most part I do agree with this book.

“Drug manufacturer Ben Venue Laboratories, for example, looked to fill 100 openings in Ohio found only 47 of 3,600 applicants to be qualified. A large portion failed the basic reading and math skills test.” (15) Goes to my point of the US being a test happy nation. I do not know the specifics but I would guess that math and reading were not an integral part of the job. Oft times they really are not.

“An employer survey reports that two-thirds of manufacturers said it is difficult to find qualified job applicants.” Not really!!!

“Given all of this, it might make sense to get a college degree, even if there are no jobs that require such degrees, because then one can beat out those who do not have degrees.” (27) He is getting at that completing a college degree signals things like perseverance, etc. He cites those with GEDs not getting paid any more than high school dropouts and less than those with the high school diploma. Horse-hockey! You can educate yourself right out of the “job-market.” He is saying that over-qualified is better than under-qualified. That the more education the better.  It should be true. I disagree with this myth. This getting a college degree in an economic downturn, like now, is not going to make a darn bit of difference. I hope I am wrong.

The jobs reportedly paid $13 per hour, which might sound good, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average wage for such jobs (machinists jobs) is more than $19 per hour, almost 50% higher than Mechanical Devices was offering.” I do not believe government numbers. I was an Electronics Technician for 25 years. The government said the average wage for my job over $20-25 per hour. I made a max of about $16 and that was with 25 years of experience with Texas Instruments, et al.

When I got laid off the government said for a Test Engineer (which I was by then) averaged about $80K per year. I made only about 70% of that or about what the average tech made.

What I think is the government looks at say the companies with federal contracts (they pay inflated wages) and use those numbers to say what are the averages wages in a given field. At least these wages skew the average onto the high side.

When I got offered the Test Engineer job I was given a range and paid dead center of the range even with little to no experience as an engineer. Since then I have had to take two electronics tech jobs and got paid the minimum of the range even though I have 25 years of experience. And this is less than I made from 1995-2000, as a tech with Texas Instruments.

I do however agree that companies do not want to pay a decent wage and this is costing them qualified employees.

So the list of excuses that employers give for most recently graduate high school and college are essentially character flaws such as punctuality, time management, motivation, etc, not skills that are taught in schools. (42)

“Still, statistical evidence does suggest that US student performance has actually improved over the past several decades, especially when measured against the dismal performance results during the 1970s. (The 1970s, recall, provided the basis for the famous  “A Nation at Risk” report about failing schools.)  Ironically, many of the people complaining today about how bad schools are compared to when they were kids- that’s anyone in his 50s- were in school when postsecondary education was probably its worst.” (45) I would disagree here. I have debunked most of what this report said. It was totally bogus. I wonder if Peter Cappelli even read the report. That is what most people do—just mention it—without being specific. Personally my complaint with education are about those that say we need reform and the changes they brought about. We don’t need reform. If things were not as bad as he thinks, based on “A Nation at Risk”, then his conclusion that things are better now is suspect.

He cites records for the NAEP going back to 1971. The proportion of student taking advance courses in science and math doubled from 1982 to 2004. This is a meaningless statistic. Advanced math and science are NOT needed for most jobs that require only a high school diploma. I notice he did not say from 1971. Is he talking about AP courses? They did not exist in 1971. Again, it is not these students that need it. Only those who take STEM subjects will need them in college, not high school. The notion that more kids taking more math and science courses in high school will lead to more mathematicians and engineers is bogus at best—non sequitur at least. Again, I do agree that our schools are NOT failing but not for those reasons. “Dropout rates tell an even better story, falling by half for low income students from 1972 to 2009.” (46) Again, meaningless. The overall high school graduation rate in 1970 was 75% and in 2010 (I think—the most recent data) it was 75.5%. Basically, it has been 70-75% (for everyone total) for the past 40 plus years. The main reason for the minorities dropout rates falling is that most of the tests have been dumbed down so much that they can now pass. That is Arne Duncan’s claim to fame. His increase in Chicago’s graduation rate was because they changed tests – lowered the bar as it were.

On page 47 he talks about education compared to other countries shows US students in the middle of industrialized countries. I would disagree with this. We were ranked 21st in Science and 24th in Math something similar out of 30 countries. Now we are in the middle only because we added another 20 so countries so we are ranked the same out about 50 countries, now. You know that one of the Goals 2000 set forth by Bush I and the 50 US governors was to be number one in both math and science by the year 2000 (set in 1989-1990). And we heard talk about returning the high rankings we used to have. This is also bogus. One year we were 10th in math, I think,  and it is the only time we ever cracked the top 10 in either subject. So, we have not ever been that great at taking the standardized tests, on average. But we still have the most high scorers and these are the kids that will lead us – be our future leaders and not the average kids, one hopes. Our black kids still score lower than Mexico’s (on PISA and TIMSS). He actually does mention this (about minority scores) later on that page, to his credit.

On the next page (48) he exposes the myth, not enough Americans are graduating college. We send about 70% to college but only 57% graduate in 6 years. This is about 39.9%– or roughly 40%.
42% of 25-34 years have at least an associate degree.

I have already said that only about 25% should graduate college, IQs 110 and above.  “While that may seem to be a large number is doesn’t represent any improvement over their parents’ generation.” (48) What is the need for improvement?

He is trying to show that other countries have caught up to us and he is right. “Several decades ago the US did lead the world in the percentage of individuals with college degrees, but now it has surpassed by some countries including Korea, where almost 58 percent of the 25-34 age group with at least an associate degree. (Russia has the highest percentage across all ages combined, which reminds us that an economy’s success is not related to education in any simple fashion.)” I would go farther. I would say it is not related in any fashion. A recent PISA test result showed some poor countries out performing us. This would say two things. Poverty does not lead to an inability to learn and education does not lead to a prosperous economy. Also, if graduating only 25% should be expected mathematically then 40% is way too many. We have probably been graduating way too many since the 1980s, perhaps. And several decades ago we were one of the few countries that was not a total mess just after WWII.

“To assume that there will be the right number of graduates coming out of college with the right skills when you want them and at the wage you want to pay is folly.” I could not agree more. Technology changes too fast for that. I do not like teaching technology in high school because (one reason) by the time they graduate the technology is obsolete. A 2-year college is also suspect. In just two semesters I have used ArcGIS 10.0 and 10.1. If I were to stay there much longer and graduate, by that time it may be ArcGIS 11.3 or who knows.

He does suggest that high-tech companies keep Colleges informed as to their needs and even have co-op. I would disagree because they do not know what they will need or even what they need now. Their strategic planning goes 1-3 years, but labor is operational management; a day-to-day problem. Since companies do not know what business to be in 1-3 years from now how do they know what labor they will need 2 years from now?

He even contradicts himself by saying, on page 56,  “Ultimately, predictions about what skills will be required in the future are based on best guesses, a method that has not been very accurate in the past.”  Exactly; this is one of my points.
“. . .  why is the belief that jobs will require much more skill so popular?” (57) Good question. It is one that have had for years now.

“This new technology may actually reduce the necessary skills.” (57) I have said so many times myself. Again, this is one of my critiques of “A Nation at Risk”. It is not “may”. It is “does”.

He does mention, as an example, a word processor fixing all of the typos. Anyone can be secretary. Well, yes and no. MS Word for example does not know or understand about homonyms. It may be spelled correctly but it may be the wrong word. Pear, pare, pair or for that matter pѐre (French for father). You could pare a pair of pears for your pѐre. It could be written “Pear a pare of pairs.” I once wrote that “it was a mute point”, about 20 years ago. It was spelled correctly but the word is moot not mute. MS Word would not catch this error. Actually, neither did my English professor, come to think of it (it was a rough draft anyway). I did correct it for the final draft.

“Likewise no data or statistics convincingly support the claim that our job seekers are remarkably unprepared for the future, whatever it may be.” (57)
This is what I keep saying.

“However, a boatload of anecdotal evidence suggests that while the workforce is largely competent and able, the hiring process by which supply and demand are brought together is an absolute mess.” (57)
I agree!!!!

“There still is big oversupply of candidates, employers can afford to be picky, and applicants need to be overqualified to have a shot at getting a scarce job.” (59) Again, I disagree with this part. Overqualified is just another disqualifying attribute of a person. I cannot get another job as an Electronics Technician because I have a Master’s degree. Employers are looking for the perfect ‘fit’. Overqualified, under-qualified and unemployed need not apply.

The employers focus on the skills associated with work experience. (59) I agree.

“One upside of this automation is that applying for jobs has been made considerably easier, an outcome that was intended in the 1990s, when these systems were born . . . .” (60) No it has not, except for the employer. It used to be you would send your resume to an employer, via e-mail. Now you have to enter several pages of data, create an account with userid and password for each employer, etc.  This is done usually before you even peruse their jobs. They make you put your information into their database instead of them doing it. This is before you get the interview, if you get the interview. This is NOT easier.

““The problem is that as the lines became more complex, the need for the workers with the advanced skills to operate and maintain them has also increased.”” The need to maintain them yes but most of the jobs do not require advanced schooling and a minimum of OJT, which companies do not seem willing to provide. They worry about employee flight. (72) This is because the companies themselves are not LOYAL to their employees. The average job lasts only about 4 years.

“The solution we hear about the most is to push the problem off on to the  education system.” (80)  “Classroom programs are a poor way to teach experience-based skills, though, and the disconnect of students and colleges trying to guess what employers will want remain.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. I have said so.

In-house training programs. Employer/employee shared training programs. I agree.

Requiring the job seekers complete community college courses, or other programs before they apply for a job, for example, reduces the need to pay for at least the classroom component of training, . . .” (83) How much is this actually done? Many jobs do require a 2-year degree but there is no guarantee of a job at the end of it.

“The United States is at the moment the only country in the world where the notion that employers are simply the consumers of skills is seriously considered.” (87) I agree here too. It should not be that way.

I do not however agree with work training co-ops. The companies themselves should train their employees on the specifics of the job.


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