MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Has workplace design become a proxy for salary suppression?

Has workplace design become a proxy for salary suppression? We sit in meetings almost every week in which our clients – large product development, manufacturing and marketing companies – lament their ability to find, hire, and retain the educated, innovative, and engaged engineers, designers and others who will make their businesses competitively successful. A "skills gap" in other words.

We are engaged in these conversations because our clients ask us to design a workplace that will be an effective tool in the attraction and engagement of the people they are trying to hire. If this article in the New York Times is correct, our clients are using workplace transformation programs as a device to cover for other strategies in hiring. Could this be true?

"What employers describe as talent shortages are often failures to agree on salary."

The article continues to say –

If a business really needed workers, it would pay up. That is not happening, which calls into question the existence of a skills gap as well as the urgency on the part of employers to fill their openings. Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “recruiting intensity” — that is, business efforts to fill job openings — has been low in this recovery. Employers may be posting openings, but they are not trying all that hard to fill them, say, by increasing job ads or offering better pay packages.

Corporate executives have valuable perspectives on the economy, but they also have an interest in promoting the notion of a skills gap. They want schools and, by extension, the government to take on more of the costs of training workers that used to be covered by companies as part of on-the-job employee development. They also want more immigration, both low and high skilled, because immigrants may be willing to work for less than their American counterparts.

There are many reasons to improve education, to welcome immigrants and to advance other policies aimed at transforming the work force and society. But a skills gap is not among them. Meeting today’s job challenges requires action to improve both the economy and pay, including government measures to create jobs, strengthen health and retirement systems, and raise the minimum wage. Fretting about a skills gap that does not exist will not help.