We see plenty of unemployed people with advanced educational degrees today. Want to meet someone with a master’s in English or art? Check behind the counter at Starbuck’s. Those people are pretty angry.
On the other hand, we have companies begging for highly skilled workers who are nowhere to be found. Why is there such a disconnect between what people are trained for and what the market needs?
Some would say it’s a market failure and that we need some kind of system to co-ordinate job training and education. Instead, it’s what happens when you let government rig the incentive structure, even with the best of intentions.
For something like 60 years, government has made it easy to go to college and has taught people that a college degree is the ticket to a good life. Going to college to get an undergraduate degree (or more) has been subsidized and propagandized, so that’s what people do — far out of proportion to its necessity.
College has become a glorified trade school with a more professional veneer. Many of the people there should have been in trade school instead, so we dumb college down to keep from flunking out too many people. (Or we send them to learn out to make bulletin boards in education majors, if you’ll forgive me for bringing up one of my favorite whipping boys.) We then have too many college graduates, so what do employers do? They raise the requirements for jobs. Those that might have once required a high school diploma now require an undergrad degree. Jobs that might have once required a bachelor’s now require a master’s. And so forth. It’s crazy.
If government will quit rigging the incentives to get people to go to college — and quit pretending that the vast majority of people would be better off going going that route — the market will even out the supply much more successfully. And people who now graduate with high hopes and higher student loan debts can quit piling up that huge debt and get real highly skilled jobs more quickly by learning the skills that industry needs.
But because big government thinks it knows better, we’re going to continue to have overeducated people standing on street corners and working at Starbucks — while companies needing people with entirely different skills go with jobs unfilled. And those underemployed PhDs will keep blaming Wall Street or “corporations” or “the 1 percent” or the Illuminati or whatever the favorite scapegoat of the day might be.
The imbalance between education and skills needed in the workplace isn’t a market failure. It’s another failure of top-down thinking brought to us by the good intentions of the coercive state.