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Posted at 04:48 PM ET, 02/08/2013

Fixing the jobs mis-match: An interview with Wharton’s Peter Cappelli


Miriam Abrego, 55, picks up fliers advertising jobs at the Foothill Employment and Training, July 6, 2012 in Pasadena, Calif. Abrego was laid off in 2008 and has not yet found a job. (Kevork Djansezian - Getty Images)

Last year, Peter Cappelli wrote a book titled “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs.” Since then, the election has come and gone, and unemployment has improved, albeit slightly. But gatherings are still being held to determine why employers, desperate for skilled workers, are unable to fill positions.

During a roundtable at The Aspen Institute offices in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Cappelli, professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, cut through popular misconceptions, including that there was still a nursing shortage (it has been over for a while, he says), that the nation’s schools are failing (a “nice narrative” he said, but not true), or that America’s kids are lazy and unwilling to take on the tough subjects (“The kids are knocking themselves out trying to find out where the jobs are.”).

But what will it take to make sure that the nation’s students, as Cappelli put it Wednesday, are no longer being asked “to play venture capitalist,” picking majors years out from when they will be applying for jobs with companies that demand increasingly specific skills sets? How do we innovate out of what appears to be a rut of companies desperately searching for workers in a landscape full of people — young and old — looking for jobs? What’s next?

When it comes to innovation in this area, said Cappelli during a phone interview Friday, “the interesting issue is going to be whether you can do this in a way without employer involvement.” Talent search companies, such as Manpower are already filling this space, taking on the work of finding strong candidates for employers in search of individuals with specific skills. With employee turnover being so much higher, companies are called on to do more recruiting and, says Cappelli, “they’re not very good at it.”

Another potential solution are college co-op programs, such as those offered at Drexel University and Northeastern University. “I think the general sense has been that these are good and work well,” said Cappelli, but start-up costs for these programs are high.

Cappelli also warns that just because there are calls on the part of companies for more skilled workers, doesn’t mean anything “unusual” is happening. In some fields, says Cappelli, a drop in wages is a contributing factor, leading some not to pursue certain jobs.

Watch the full roundtable:

Are you currently frustrated with your job search? How do you think the system can or should be changed? Let us know in the comments.

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