A panel of workforce experts met last week at the Aspen Institute’s Washington, D.C., office to talk about challenges in the skilled trades — why utilities, technical firms, factories and other employers end up with up to 40 open positions on their websites while more than 20 million Americans are hunting for work. Panelists couldn’t agree on a solution — or even, really, over the nature of the problem — but they all seemed to think that more could be done to help dedicated workers find jobs.

“You’ll hear the problem is the schools,” moderator and PBS NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez said. “Well, we’ve had times of near full employment in our history where the schools were pretty terrible, educating a small number of people to high standards and a large number of people to a mediocre one. You’ll hear the problem is employers, who, at a time of rising productivity and slack demand together, are able to demand exotic combinations of talent and experience and hold jobs permanently open in a way different from what they would have done at a time of high labor demand. Or the problem is training. Or secondary education.”

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