1980s. However, as with anything else
that organizations buy, there is no guarantee that the price of labor will remain
low. Eventually, employers will figure
out that, to solve the problem, they will
need to raise wages and train workers.
Meanwhile, businesses are lobbying
for government help. Tech companies,
for example, want more temporary H-1B
visas so that they can hire people from
other countries who are already trained.
The evidence suggests, however, that
that approach becomes a permanent
crutch, not a stopgap measure: The U. S.
Commerce Department calculated that,
during the 1990s, 28 percent of all com-
puter programming jobs in the U.S. were
held by workers with H-1B visas. That
kind of reliance on foreign talent distorts
the labor market, just as it did decades
ago in the nursing industry.
Are schools the answer? They have
been criticized for failing to produce
employable graduates. But there’s little
real evidence to support that: In recent
years, U. S. secondary school students
have been performing slightly better on
standardized tests than in past decades.
Besides, surveys show that few employers are interested in hiring new high
school grads, and when they are, academic skills are simply not that important to them.
One problem with trying to get our
educational institutions to produce the
students employers want is that there is
no guarantee that anyone will hire them
when they graduate. Telling young peo-
ple to major in, say, petroleum engineer-
ing, which was among the hottest jobs
this decade, turned out to be bad advice
when demand fell off. It’s also incred-
ibly inefficient to try to learn work-based
skills in a classroom setting.
I don’t see any way to make progress
without engaging employers, including
HR professionals. They must be deeply
involved in the process of skills development—just as they were in the past. But
how can we get decentralized employers to help provide work-based learning
experiences in some structured way for
people who are not already their employees? That seems to be the challenge, and
it’s a big one.
Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor
Professor of Management at The Wharton
School at the University of Pennsylvania and
director of Wharton’s Center for Human