If we want to solve the skills gap issue in the U.S., maybe we should turn to reciprocity (like parts of Europe)

“You don’t really know what you get,” she says. “If someone tells you they’re an electrician, they could have just exchanged light bulbs at an amusement park or they could have worked, maybe, at complex problems.”

That quote is from an NPR article describing the difference in training workers across the U.S. and Germany. A German woman said the above to contrast the hiring of workers from both countries. See, the German system is different — there’s a three-year apprenticeship where they work three days a week at a company, and go to school the other two days (this ratio can also be 4-1). Once they’re done, they need to work three years for that company before they can leave (this is relatively akin to a company paying for an MBA/Masters for an employee and making it so that they’d have to pay back a high percentage if they leave immediately). The German model is rooted in the guild system of the 1800s, which the U.S. was not built on, but … the German model is a bit more successful in terms of filling the “skills gap” you often hear about in the U.S.

The U.S. has a different approach, which Obama once referred to as “train and pray:”

There are a couple of important things here, just in broader context:

1. There isn’t really “a skills gap.” There is, but there are bigger problems covered up by that term. Right now, there aren’t actually enough jobs; if we filled all the available jobs in the U.S., we’d still have millions unemployed. The issue is really job creation and also the ideas we put forth to people in high school: generally, it goes “If you get a college degree, and then especially a Masters degree, that will get you into the middle class.” In many instances, this is true. In many others, no. ‘Tis not.

2. Part of the issue with talking about a “skills gap” is that it brings up the basic flaws in hiring practices in America. Recruiters and hiring managers typically hire off a “checklist approach,” meaning X-candidate needs to hit 10 of 10 things, or 10 of 12 things, to even get in the pipeline. This is the easiest approach when a posted job gets 200+ applicants, sure, but removing context from the applicants and just going off a list does nothing to get you the right people, so then you turn around and tell the media there’s a “skills gap.” There is, sure, but there’s also an “evaluation of skills” gap that might be even more terrifying — and that’s only going to get wider over the next 10-20 years. (Another aspect here is that people regularly attempt to hire for jobs that they think they need based on recent workflow, but if they stood back and analyzed, they would realize they don’t need at all. It’s hard to hire for something that ultimately has no business/mission-facing aspect to their role, especially if you yourself are quite busy.)

3. America does have a problem with training, and we should embrace our community college programs more, and we should attempt to get organizations incentives to train properly in exchange for some kind of binding of employee to org (the reason orgs don’t train as well as they can, honestly, is that everyone is fearful of spending the money but seeing the talent blossom at a rival). The single-biggest differentiator of a great company vs. a good company is ability and access around training. If companies got tax breaks and other loopholes for developing reciprocal apprentice programs in 10-12 industries (and were encouraged to use “job modeling” — looking at where the job could head in 3 years, as opposed to the 10 characteristics we think we need tomorrow), that might be a good start. Is it utopian? Sure. But can a country like America eventually fix this? Of course.

Ted Bauer


  1. The biggest problem with skill gap in America is the government doesn’t police the schools that they allow to receive financial aid from students so you have all these schools taking money from students and not teaching them the skills necessary to br successful in the field of study and it dont matter because the students still owe the money back to the government weather there successful or not I believe Australia has a better system I’m told that in Australia you dont have to pay the government back until you are successful making 50k a yr if this is true then the government is making sure you succeed because if you don’t they dont get payed

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