(USA TODAY) - Employers say a skills gap that's keeping them from finding qualified job candidates is widening. But they finally may be doing something about it.
About half of businesses say they plan to train new hires this year, up from 39% in 2013, according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder.
"Training budgets that were diminished or nonexistent during the recession are starting to make a comeback," says Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and author of The Talent Equation. The firm surveyed 1,025 employers in computers, healthcare, manufacturing, engineering and finance - fields with many open skilled positions.
Meanwhile, wages, which have barely kept pace with inflation through the recovery, are rising more briskly, especially for hard-to-fill slots.
Despite still-high unemployment, firms for years have bemoaned the difficulty of finding skilled workers. That pushes up the jobless rate since many unemployed construction workers, for example, lack skills for growing jobs in computers and health care.
Fifty-four percent of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder say they have open positions for which they can't find qualified candidates, up from 41% in late 2011. Thirty-five percent said they have slots that stay open three months or longer, the survey says, with firms losing an average $14,000 per job for vacancies of that length due to reduced output.
But critics such as Wharton School management professor Peter Cappelli are skeptical of the skills gap. He notes firms slashed training budgets in the recession and have been unwilling to hire job candidates who meet most of their criteria and fill in gaps with training, as they used to do regularly. They also have been reluctant to raise wages to attract top candidates.
Those obstacles still exist. Only a third of the companies surveyed say they cross-train employees for other jobs in their firms and 35% think they can pay less because of the high jobless rate, now 6.7%, according to CareerBuilder. It is partly owned by USA TODAY's parent Gannett.
Gardner Carrick, vice president of the Manufacturing Institute, the industry's training arm, says manufacturers aren't restoring apprenticeships they cut as factory jobs moved offshore.But with about 500,000 jobs unfilled, he says a growing number of producers are working with community colleges and technical high schools to create a pipeline of workers for modernized factories.
Wages are also rising. In the third quarter of 2013, 27 industry sectors had increased average pay 5% or more during the previous 12 months, up from 19 sectors in the third quarter of 2012, Moody's Analytics figures show. "Wage growth appears to be accelerating for the first time since the recession," says Moody's economist Mark Zandi.