Paul Krugman is Wrong; the Skills Gap is Very Real

Paul Krugman wrote recently that the skills gap is a “myth” and that it is nothing more than a “zombie idea” perpetuated by “influential people” who all move in the same circles. [“Jobs and Skills and Zombies,” New York Times op-ed, March 30]. As the nation’s largest business federation representing over 3 million employers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would like to set the record straight.

The skills gap is a problem that has frustrated business and policymakers for some time. The fact is that our education and workforce system is failing to keep pace with our modernizing economy. Employers throughout the U.S. continue to struggle to find skilled workers who can contribute to their growth and competitiveness.

Left unchallenged, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that the skills gap will grow to over 5 million unfilled positions by 2020. The Manufacturing Institute estimates that in its sector alone, there are more than 600,000 open jobs, a gap that will continue to grow as manufacturers take advantage of growth opportunities here in the U.S.

At its core, the problem is a breakdown between supply and demand. For decades, reform initiatives have sought to improve the education system. However, the results of such efforts haven’t done enough to improve graduation rates in high school or college completion rates—or even the effectiveness of workforce training programs.

What stands before us is an opportunity to rethink the role of employers in education programs, the type and value of credential offerings, and how students can be empowered with real and meaningful choice in pursuing a pathway to success.

New and innovative partnerships are already starting to form.  In New York City and Chicago, IBM and other technology firms are sponsoring Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) academies where students earn a high school degree while working towards an associate’s degree all while earning industry credentials and participating in work-based learning opportunities.

In Kentucky, Toyota has partnered with the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative (AMTEC) to streamline education and training opportunities and the transition to employment for students interested in mechatronics and other highly skilled fields.

If employers are to maintain their economic competitiveness, it will require closing the persistent and ever-worsening skills gap that continues to undermine economic growth and job creation. Failure to address (or in Mr. Krugman’s case, even acknowledge) this important issue will perpetuate a status quo that contributes to high unemployment, growing entitlements, and lost opportunities for growing the middle class.


Jason Tyszko is senior director of policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's center for education & workforce.