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Skill Shortages: the con that never dies

Is anyone else sick of hearing this for the past 35 years?:

Retraining. Our economy is full of skill shortages. The baby boomers are due to retire (any day now!) and we’ll need an army of people to replace them.  In the interim we need some visa workers to fill the gaps while we retrain.

They’re even doing it now, with the covid crisis and skyrocketing unemployment.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the labor market in the past 35 years, is that there are no labor shortages.  There haven’t even looked like being any labor shortages since the second world war.  And yet, over and over again, the same old myth gets trotted out. Why?

I think for three reasons:

Its usually a scam to push more visas and immigration.  Wages (very slowly) do occasionally rise, and employers really really hate wage rises. Thus they kick up a stink about fictitious skill shortages; and lazy, gullible journalists (ie all of them) write about it, then governments panic shove through an increase in visas to ‘fix’ the ‘skill shortage’ problem.  The employers get addicted to the cheap labor, gear up to whine next time, and on and on the story goes.

The second are our old frauds, the universities. Long past being real places of learning, they have become a combination of pre-dole young adult minding services, combined with dodgy overseas visa selling citizenship factories. They love hyping the limitless potential of you, provided there’s an upfront payment for them (and, cough, a large unpaid student loan), involved. And don’t listen to the nonsense they peddle about how they ‘have’ to enrol overseas students ‘to make up for state funding cuts’. Firstly, the quote openly outs them as being totally in it for the money (which they are), secondly, its nonsense; there have been no great cuts to speak of.

But the last, and most curious, reason, are people themselves.  Since 1973, our economies haven’t really worked, and we’ve had a larger and larger pool of unemployed. Some recoveries reduce this pool, but every recession pushes it higher. There is no question that my standard of living is much lower now than it was in the 1980s; as likely yours has been. This is before we get to the almost complete ongoing destruction of the natural environment. And yet nobody can really accept this, they think its just temporary, that they can ‘skill up’ and finally get what they think is their full, fair value.

So the ‘reskilling’ scam goes on, benefitting employers, greedy universities, and their deluded customers: us.

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