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What we mean when we talk about workforce skills

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta stated recently that the US “has more than six million open jobs, but some employers can’t find workers with the skills to fill them.” Before the 2008 recession, employers complained repeatedly of skill gaps and mismatches. With low unemployment, around 4.5%, they could not find the workers they needed. Yet the narrative did not change even as unemployment peaked, with almost 15 million people out of work in 2010. Too many Americans lack skills suited to today’s economy–technology-intensive and post-industrial, exposed to global competition in services as well as manufacturing. In late 2017, the chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, told Bloomberg Businessweek “There are 500,000 jobs today in the tech sector that are open.” Some commentators go so far as to argue that skill gaps foster automation: if employers cannot find humans with the capabilities they want, they will buy robots and artificial intelligence systems.