The skills-mismatch: the weak evidentiary basis of a fuzzy concept and the implications for public universities.

Authors: Emmanuel Kyeremeh, University of Western Ontario, Department of Geography, Jeffrey Boggs*, Brock University
Topics: Economic Geography, Higher Education, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: skills-mismatch thesis; higher education; labor market policy; political economy of training
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The English-language press promotes a thesis of an incompatibility between workers’ ‘skills’ and employers’ needs, a condition variously called skill(s) gap(s), horizontal (and vertical) mismatch, or over- (and under-) education. However, no single unambiguous definition exists which encompasses these terms in a unified framework. Furthermore, these concepts frequently conflate credentials, skill-level, skillset and habit. Given the implications of these claims for labor force policies in English-speaking countries, this ambiguity is problematic.

Furthermore, scholarly literature finds claims of skills-mismatch to be inconsistent with existing data in Anglophone countries. With that said, what we collectively term a ‘skills-mismatch’ exemplifies Markusen’s (2003) ‘fuzzy concept.’ While our re-conceptualization of the skills-mismatch as a concept consisting of three analytically-distinct components (credential-mismatch, skill-level-mismatch, and skillset-mismatch, all as distinct from habits) provides a starting-point for investigating the existence and extent of a skills-mismatch in a given context, a larger popular discourse already frames the contemporary discussion about an alleged skills-mismatch.

Regardless of its problematic empirical foundations, this larger popular discourse frames universities as the cause of a ‘skills-mismatch.’ Irritatingly, this discourse downplays or ignores the role of employers in training workers, especially given declines in-house training budgets. In term of public wealth, advocates of the skills-mismatch thesis call for the restructuring of public universities to provide “workforce-ready” workers at the expense of turning out well-rounded students, and ignore the repercussions of this putative solution which further externalizes firms’ training costs onto society at large.

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