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Right now there's a record number of job openings in the U.S., around 6 million. That's just over one job opening for every officially unemployed person in the country. Matching that person with the right job is tough, though. As NPR's John Ydstie reports, employers could do more to improve those odds.
JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist for the online job site Glassdoor, says U.S. employers often complain that workers don't have the skills needed for the jobs available. He says that's true for some upper-level health care and technology jobs.
ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: But for the most part, it doesn't look to be like there is a skills gap. That's not the main reason why there are many job openings.
YDSTIE: Chamberlain says that with unemployment so low and the U.S. labor force growing slowly, there's no doubt it's harder for companies to find workers. But he says if that were the main problem, you'd see wages rising more rapidly in the economy. That's not been the case in many industries. Part of the problem, says Chamberlain, lies in company hiring policies. Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, agrees. He says one problem is that companies are posting openings that require qualifications that aren't really necessary for the job.
PETER CAPPELLI: They're just asking for the moon and not expecting to pay very much for it. And as a result, they couldn't find those people. Now, that didn't mean there was nobody to do the job. It just meant that there was nobody at the price they were willing to pay.
YDSTIE: Jason Lorenz says he's seen that in his work at Human Technology Incorporated (ph), a corporate recruiter that provides workers for firms in the Carolinas, many of them auto parts manufacturers. Lorenz says the companies come to him with a long checklist of qualifications. And he says...
JASON LORENZ: OK, we understand you would love to have that perfect employee, but give me a couple things that a successful candidate would look like for this specific job on this shift.
YDSTIE: For instance, he asks, do they really need to be able to operate a computer? Or do they only need to be able to lift 35 pounds? Lorenz says another thing that employers need to understand is that wages need to rise.
LORENZ: I'm telling manufacturers now if you're below $12 an hour, I don't know that I'm going to be the person to be able to help you with those jobs.
YDSTIE: That's because in the past year, job openings have nearly doubled in western North Carolina, where he works. And the supply of additional workers is shrinking fast. Wharton's Peter Cappelli says part of the problem is employers haven't adjusted to new conditions. For years they've had their choice of workers desperate for a job. Now the labor market has tightened, says Cappelli, but many employers haven't responded.
CAPPELLI: Wages have not gone up despite all the talk about a tight labor market. And I think most important for the economy, we still don't see lots of employers being willing to take people in right out of school and train them for jobs.
YDSTIE: Jason Lorenz says that's also the case with many companies he deals with. Companies anxious to meet quarterly earnings targets don't want to spend money training workers. That's left the ball in his court. So he finds workers and gets them enrolled in community college programs.
LORENZ: And then we're able to move those folks from, say, an entry level position at the $10 to $12 range and then promote them within those companies at the $16 to $17 an hour range.
YDSTIE: Glassdoor's Andrew Chamberlain says it is important for companies to adjust their behaviors for their own good.
CHAMBERLAIN: Every open position in the economy is money left on the table. It's a lost paycheck to a worker. It's also lost productivity to the company.
YDSTIE: And it's lost growth for the U.S. economy. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.
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