Review: Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs

good peopleThis review first ran in the Feb. 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

My Feb. 25 hour 2 interview with Bill Kelly on CHML 900 about this book is posted here

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

By Peter Cappelli

Wharton Digital Press


So why is good help so hard to find?

We’ve all heard this story before. A company needs to hire because business is booming, Boomers are retiring or someone’s moved on. The job posting goes out and the flood of resumés come in. But there isn’t a single applicant who fits the bill. No one has the requisite skills, the job goes unfilled and the search continues, both for the company that urgently needs to hire and the freshly minted grads, the under- and unemployed who desperately want to get hired.

According to conventional wisdom, an ever-widening skills gap is to blame. Companies complain that schools fail to deliver the right training and allow students to graduate unskilled. The government takes heat for not welcoming enough skilled immigrants and foreign-trained professionals and job candidates are blasted for having unrealistic expectations when it comes to pay, perks and benefits.

Peter Cappelli doesn’t buy it. The Wharton School professor and author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs says when he looks at the facts, there’s no solid evidence to support claims of a skills gap. While there’s a definite disconnect between workers and jobs, blaming the victim misses the mark and only makes matters worse, warns Cappelli.

“The real culprits are the employers themselves,” Cappelli wrote in a Wall Street Journal article that spawned his book. “With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time. To get a job, you have to have that job already. It’s a Catch-22 situation for workers — and it’s hurting companies and the economy.”

Cappelli says some jobs are going unfilled because there’s actually a surplus, rather than a shortage, of talent. “Employers may take longer to fill vacancies not because no one fits their requirements but precisely because there are so many qualified applicants and because they differ so much. In this case, it might pay off for employers to wait for someone who is perfect for the job, not merely qualified, or even to see who will do the job at a wage well below market rate.”

As for the complaint that jobs go unfilled because candidates balk at the wages offered, Cappelli says employers may need a refresher in how markets work. “There is a difference between saying we can’t find anyone to hire and saying we can’t or don’t want to pay the wages needed to hire. Not being able or willing to pay the market price for talent does not constitute a shortage.”

Mechanical Devices is one of the companies that has been a poster child in ongoing media coverage about growing skill shortages. The U.S.-based parts supply company had 40 machinist jobs that it couldn’t fill and those vacancies were holding sales back by an estimated 20 per cent. The 40 jobs reportedly paid $13 an hour. Yet Cappelli points out the industry average for machinists was $19 per hour. “Would that have some effect on the company’s ability to find candidates? You bet.”

Cappelli also calls out hiring processes, especially at companies using cost-saving, HR-shrinking and applicant-crunching tracking and screening software programs. The problems begin with the unrealistic expectations of hiring managers who are, as the founder of a staffing company puts it, looking for unicorns.

“Managers pile all the credentials and expertise into the job description to minimize the risk that the candidate will fail, making it virtually impossible to find anyone who fits,” says Cappelli.

Once it’s baked into the software, every requirement, no matter how critical or trivial, becomes a hurdle that applicants must clear to get an interview. Not surprisingly, few candidates survive the process, regardless of their experience and ability to do the job.

Cappelli concludes his book by saying what we’re really facing is a training gap. “Despite all the concern about the supposed inadequate skill level of job seekers, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the sagging investment in employee training among those companies apparently desperate for skills.

“A huge part of the so-called skills gap actually springs from the weak employer efforts to promote internal training for either current employees or future hires.”

In-house, employer and employee-shared training programs and traditional apprenticeships would go a long way to filling vacant jobs and putting people to work, says Cappelli. Mechanical Devices set up a 10-week training program to create its own machinists. Out of the first group of 24 trainees, 16 graduated and moved into the vacant jobs.

Cappelli also recommends more co-op programs, internships and closer collaboration between schools and employers. “Students learn academic material more easily when they see practical uses for it; employers and students alike benefit from having contact with one another and in the end, employers see graduates who are better prepared for jobs. To expect schools and students to guess what skills your company will need in the future is plain and simply bad business.”

In challenging conventional wisdom, Cappelli has written a book that will save employers from searching for unicorns and make good help far easier to find and hire.