July 29, 2014

It’s not your management, it’s a “labor market mismatch”

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mismatch by contra-la-tormenta on deviantart.com

According to this article on CNBC.com, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker has indicated that one of the contributing factors to the current economic slump “is that there is a ‘labor market mismatch’ in which companies have a hard time finding skilled workers.


OK, ok…..I won’t go so far as to say that he’s wrong.  I don’t have the numbers, so I’ll take him at his word and assume that he’s not a buffoon.  I’m sure there’s a lot more going on in his head than what the article writer could capture in the short space she was given before the editor got to it, anyway.

Nonetheless, I find the concept of a “Labor market mismatch” is still fascinating.  It essentially says this:  The heads of companies want to be hiring right now, but one of the things limiting them is the labor pool.   There aren’t enough people with the right skills that the decision makers in most companies, who would otherwise be hiring, need to go in the direction they want to go.  If that’s the current situation, then fine.

What bothers me is that this statement assumes someone other than those very same decision makers are at fault if there aren’t enough resources.  For one, if they had instituted cross-training programs across their organizations, would people be more able (and willing) to cross over organizational boundaries and work on what was most beneficial right now?  Or, are these organizations stuck in a stove-piped mentality with little internal integration, stability, or sameness that would allow for such moves to happen?

Also, we’re a few years into this recession thing by now.  Maybe if there had been more willingness to act with a long-term plan in mind, rather than meeting quarterly numbers, the past couple of years could have been spent on employee development and recruiting, such that you’d have the skill set you need by now?

And while we’re at it – what’s being done right now to make sure that the workforce they have today will be able to meet the needs of the future, or will we be hearing about this labor market mismatch in the future, too?  Are businesses really just hoping that the right graduates come out of college with the necessary skills, or that mid-career pros will be able to utilize existing skills in entirely new ways, or are they providing guidance and resources so that the labor pool stays stocked with talent?

Oh, and how is it that this same labor pool, not 10 years ago, was riding a wave of economic prosperity?  Has the world changed so much that their skills are now, somehow, totally worthless?

While I don’t doubt that there is a shortage of people in the workforce with the skills that decision makers in the business world are looking for, I think it’s a bit ridiculous for those same decision makers to blame the workforce itself for the situation.

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  • http://blog.derrickstrand.com Derrick Strand


    Great post! Thanks for starting the discussion. One of my pet peeves (there are many) of leaders today is not being accountable for the organization they run…….as if it is someone else’s fault? The “buck” stops with them and they need to own it.

    As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, you can’t solve a problem until you admit you have one. Whether it’s ego, a lack of self awareness or deep rooted insecurities, many leaders cannot admit that problems, failures or mistakes are the result of their leadership and decision making.

    Some examples include:

    Our people are our greatest asset but no programs in place to develop them in a way that give us the skills we need (your point above)

    Pet projects of the leader that have proven to be failures. Instead of admitting the failure and moving on, the project continues to be funded.

    Randomly putting people that are “available” on initiatives they are not passionate about and/or don’t have the necessary skills. Then blaming the project manager for not creating a high performing team that delivers stellar results.

    Saying you want people who challenge the status quo, question conventional thinking and then maintaining a culture that DOES NOT encourage or reward what you said you wanted in the recruiting process. Inevitably, those people leave (these are exactly the people who you need.)

    I have many more examples but I’ll stop here. Until leaders are more self aware and are truly accountable for the things they own, more of this blame game will occur.

    In an even broader context, this issue is a huge problem in American culture and it’s only getting worse. The viewpoint of “my problems are always someone else’s fault and it’s someone else’s responsibility to fix it,” seems to be becoming a view of the majority.

    We can get back our American “mojo” if everyone had the view, “I am responsible for me, I own my situation/problems and I will make changes as necessary to solve them and move forward in a positive direction.”

    How’s that for a Thursday morning rant! :) Thanks for starting the discussion.

    Derrick Strand
    Principal, Leadership Development
    Titan Group

  • http://myflexiblepencil.com/about_davidk/ David M. Kasprzak

    Hi, Derrick!

    I absoluetely love it when someone gets fired up. I love it even more when I’m the source!

    The lack of personal accountability out there is a problem. It has permeated just about everything. Fortunately, there are those who recognize it. With luck, we’ll bring the change to the foreground and facilitate the necessary changes.

    I think the term “leaders” is used much too loosely. Just because you’re at the front, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re leading. You might just be the first to follow.

    That might be our real problem. We simply have too many people incapable of challenging the status quo, for good or ill, in positions of decision-making authority. Then again, if they had challenged the staus quo, they never would have received that authority in the first place.

    Clearly, the system is broken, and causing more problems then it solves.