The existence of a “skills gap” in Wisconsin’s labor force has become accepted wisdom among politicians of both parties. Governor Scott Walker has repeatedly talked about rolling back the gap in worker skills. “As we work to create more jobs, we need people with the skills to fill the jobs,” he said during his budget address. “We understand the state able to fix the jobs skill gap is the state that will lead the country in economic development.” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca called for urgent action on closing the gap and getting people back to work.
Now a new study may raise questions about the existence of the gap. The state’s labor market shows no evidence of an existing or impending general “skills gaps,” according to analysis by a team of graduate students at UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.
The students analyzed the supply and demand for labor by building projections for both overall levels of educational attainment and specific occupations and by using present-day economic indicators.
Robert Haveman is professor emeritus of public affairs and economics, and oversaw the study. “This is a very good study,” he said. “It presents strong evidence that there is no general ‘skills gap’ problem in the state, although in certain places and for certain jobs there may be a problem. Perhaps these few problem areas are the ones that we hear about anecdotally.”
Analysis in the study, produced in the Workshop in Public Affairs for the Wisconsin Legislative Council, indicates a shortage of labor in Wisconsin for projected job openings that do not require post-secondary formal education, an excess of associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree holders for the projected job openings, and a relatively small shortage of doctoral and professional degree holders” the study finds.
“If anywhere, the ‘skills gap’ exists for occupations requiring the state’s lowest skill workers,” Haveman said.