Scenes From a Labor Market | Inside Higher Ed

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I heard both of these on Tuesday.

The day started with a meeting of the advisory boards for our culinary and hospitality management programs. (They’re separate programs with separate boards, but they had a joint meeting this time.) I was talking with the owner of a local country club that employs some of our students and graduates.

Owner: It’s really hard to find people for these jobs. And when I do, they leave as soon as they get a higher offer. Nobody is looking at the long term.

Me: If you have any employees who have shown that they’re dependable, but maybe their skills aren’t the best, we could train them and make them promotable.

Owner: I would love to have employees like that! Nobody sticks around that long.

That makes the whole “incumbent worker training” scenario harder. The premise of incumbent worker training is that there are incumbent workers.

The owner mentioned later that he and some other restaurateurs in the area have funded a scholarship program for workers who’ve been in one job for at least a year, but they’ve had no takers. Nobody sticks around long enough to take it.

I’m so unaccustomed to labor shortages that it still brings me up short.

My next meeting was with a delegation from another college in which we discussed some possible agreements. In the course of that meeting, I was told that the nursing shortage is so severe here that the local hospitals are offering $30,000 signing bonuses for nurses.

That’s great for students but terrible for the program. It may become even harder to keep good nursing faculty around, especially the early-career ones. The hospitals already offer much higher salaries than we do; add signing bonuses of that magnitude, and the struggle is real.

Of course, that could set off a spiral. If the nursing program shrinks, then it will produce fewer nurses to satisfy local demand. That would make the shortage worse, which would bid up salaries and bonuses more, which would peel away more faculty.

Vocational programs are expensive. The folks who think that the secret to getting costs under control is to focus more intently on vocational programs have never managed an instructional budget.

If we want the next generation of skilled workers—and anyone who cares about the economy absolutely should—then we need to pony up the resources to hire people capable of teaching them. That happens through direct operating aid to institutions.

Yes, some of these dislocations are likely transitory, as the Fed likes to say. But the connection between available training and the future workforce is enduring. If we sacrifice long-term training to short-term spikes, we’re setting ourselves up for a rough ride for years to come.

That’s a lot of red flags for a single Tuesday morning.

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