I enjoyed Joe Feeley's editorial ("Skills Gap Doesn't Add Up," September 2012). I would like to relate a recent instance of corporate policy that might be contributing to the skills gap (or perhaps, as you point out, it is a pay gap).
I recently asked our human resources person about some of the ads she had been placing for new engineers. It seemed remarkable to me that her ads called for extensive experience, impressive academic credentials, and expertise in several esoteric skills, and yet these positions were described as "entry level." Her response: "The company wants to hire the most qualified applicant at the lowest price possible. There might be someone out there who really wants to leave their current job and would be willing to take an entry-level job with us." There could indeed be such a person, but why are we starting the search in such a way as to discourage the vast majority of potential applicants by targeting a theoretical disgruntled engineer who might not even exist?
I was further impressed by an instance earlier where the writing of the job requirement for an engineering position was left to the HR department after getting input from the engineering manager. One requirement from the manager was that it would be good if the applicant were familiar with a new standard that was just being rolled out to industry that month. The HR office changed that to "must have five years' experience with XYZ standards" in their ad.
At that point, if you were on the committee that had promulgated the standards, it would have been theoretically possible for you to have three years' experience with the standards. I feel sure that anyone who spends three years working with their professional association to write an international standard would not be interested in a junior engineering position for a low-end salary offer.
Coupled with the current recession (or slow business climate, if you prefer), I see the fine hand of HR people looking to depress the labor market for skilled workers and engineers. Being forced to raise prices to pay a better wage in order to attract skilled employees does not sound reasonable. Corporate profits are at an all-time high since companies that survived the recession have cut staffing to the bone. What's being threatened by paying for skilled labor here is not the company pricing structure, but rather the percentage of profits made on that enterprise. Structured correctly, adding a skilled employee should improve your long-term profitability, not degrade it.
Identity withheld by request