There is a notion being batted around these days among the Chattering Class that there are plenty of jobs out there. But there aren’t enough workers available with the skills necessary to perform the work. Prez O stepped into that debate yesterday during a chat on Google.
Here’s from Mediaite, “President Obama Tells Unemployed Engineer’s Wife: Send Me Your Husband’s Resume“:
President Barack Obamahad a virtual intimate talk with a number of Americans this afternoon in a “Google hangout,” where he received questions from an audience over the computer. One guest in the hangout asked about worker visas in engineering, and gave the President the anecdote of her husband’s three years of temporary employment despite being an engineer. “Send me your husband’s resume,” replied the President.
A woman named Jennifer described her husband’s situation to President Obama– that he was an engineer (a semiconductor engineer, she later elaborated), who had not been able to find permanent work in three years. Given his education level and the national demand for engineers, she asked the President why visas were still given to foreigners who have the same skill set when worthy Americans are still unemployed.
The President responded that he thought it interesting given his meetings with industry leaders. “There is a huge demand around the country for engineers,” he told her, though adding that “obviously, there are different kinds of engineers,” so the general category doesn’t apply fully. “What industry tells me is that they don’t have enough highly skilled engineers,” he noted, and continued, “If your husband is in that field, we should get your husband’s resume and I’ll forward it to some of these companies that are telling me they don’t have enough engineers.”
Jennifer responded that she still wanted to know why visa programs were so popular with the companies, and the President replied asking what type of engineer her husband is. “It is interesting to me,” he replied, asserting that he would “follow up on this” because he had been hearing that a specialist engineer was higher in demand than in supply, and that the visas Jennifer inquired about were only available to companies having problems finding said engineers. “And I meant what I said,” the President reminded her, “if your send me your husband’s resume, I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there.”
Well, this should be interesting, since the Prez gets plenty of advice about jobs from people like Jeff Immelt, the Head Sled at GE. And Immelt is good at creating jobs. Unfortunately, for American workers and American presidents on the reelection trail, most of the jobs are in China, India or elsewhere.
Anyway, the NYT opined (“Dissent in the Jobs Council“) recently on the issue of jobs and the idea of a skills gap:
At Disney World last week, President Obama announced new executive orders to speed up visas for foreign tourists to the United States. The measure, a priority for the travel industry, was one of several sensible recommendations made in the last year by Mr. Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a 27-member panel of corporate executives, academics, investors and labor leaders. The White House has carried out 17 others so far.
Increasingly, however, the council’s recommendations have resembled not so much expert advice as a corporate wish list. In a report last October, the council’s sound proposals for job-creating public works projects were overshadowed by its unfounded claim that antifraud provisions put in place in 2002 in response to Enron are an impediment to growth and hiring, and should be ended.
Its latest report, issued last week, went so far in the direction of the Republican political agenda that it was endorsed by House Speaker John Boehner for its emphasis on lower tax rates and less regulation. The report drew the ire of the panel’s two union members, Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Joseph Hansen, chairman of the Change to Win coalition. After the false premises and false fixes that have dominated the job creation debate, the dispute is healthy.
Mr. Trumka wrote a dissent in which he agreed that the United States has fallen behind other countries in investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, education, job skills and alternative energy. What he rightly objected to was the idea that less regulation, lower corporate tax rates and other demands on the business agenda are the key to restoring competitiveness and creating jobs. “Without timely action by government on a large scale,” he wrote, “solutions will continue to elude us as a nation.”
OK. Here’s the point about the notion of a skills gap:
It is also crucially important to recognize that unemployment today is not primarily driven by a skills gap — as the council’s report would lead you to believe — but by lack of jobs. If all of the job openings in America were filled tomorrow, nearly 10 million of the nation’s 13.1 million unemployed workers would still be out of work. That shortage requires more federal aid to bolster demand, not a focus on a less pressing skills gap.
So let’s see how the Recruiter-in-Chief makes out in finding a job for Jennifer’s husband. Skills gap. Or not.