Is there really a “skills shortage”?

Whenever the question of skills, and unemployment, is discussed within the mainstream, the problem is usually described in these kind of terms:

“In a survey of 1,200 businesses with more than 50 employees, over half want to take on more staff , but businesses are frustrated by a lack of skilled labour in the UK ……..”

http://www.britishchambers.org.uk

Of course, there is always a lack or shortage of those with exceptional skills. For example there aren’t many who can play football with the same level of skill as Lionel Messi. The England cricket team could well benefit from someone who can bowl a ball as fast as Mitchell Johnson. The clear fact that they haven’t would suggest that there is indeed a skills shortage. There would be an immediate job for anyone who had the right skills and abilities in that regard. That’s for sure!

It is a strange argument, though, from those who subscribe to a neo-liberal economic school of thought. In their textbooks there is always a lack, or shortage of nearly everything. According to the neo-liberals, it is a shortage of anything desirable which causes it to have a price. That argument is obviously true to a large extent. Their view of the economic world isn’t totally incorrect. They do manage to get some things right! There are many good golfers for example. But, its is only those who are exceptional that would expect to be paid for their services. The better they are the more they are paid.   There’s a shortage of housing, too. If there were a greater shortage, rents would be even higher. We all understand that.

I would expect that the British Chamber of Commerce aren’t that concerned about the shortage of fast bowlers. They would probably say there was a shortage of engineers. Or a shortage of qualified electricians, or a shortage of IT professionals , or whatever. OK so what? There would be a shortage of milk in my refrigerator if I weren’t prepared to pay the market price.

So what’s behind all this ‘skills shortage’ nonsense? It’s simply a blame shifting exercise. Instead of unemployment being the fault of government and the large corporations, the blame is directed at those without work.  The message is : All outcomes are determined by individuals. If you don’t have a job then don’t blame the system. It’s all your fault! If you were capable of regularly hooking those 95mph deliveries to the boundary you’d have no trouble at all finding work!

This is not to say that education and the development of workplace skills is not important. A skilled workforce is always going to be more productive than an less skilled one . But any workforce,  and it is just not possible for them to have no skills at all, has to be more productive than an unemployed workforce. Nearly everyone is capable of doing something and that should be the starting point in any sensible discussion of  skill development.

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