Both presidential candidates have “more jobs” high on their list of priorities. One candidate has promised to create 25 million new jobs. The other candidate promises a massive investment in infrastructure that will improve the country and, yes, produce jobs.

To people who are still struggling in a climate of long, slow economic expansion, “more jobs” is a litmus test for a candidate. But “more training” would be a better, albeit less popular, rallying cry.

What would happen if a new president’s economic policies created 2.5 million jobs every year? We’ve have lots and lots of unfilled jobs. CNBC shows what the gap would look like.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D+ and recommends investment of $3.6 trillion by 2020. That’s D’s for dams, schools, roads, wastewater, drinking water and hazardous waste. Clearly, something has to be done. But by whom? The days of the WPA, when men with picks and shovels built the Hoover Dam. These days, even a backhoe is computer-controlled. And applying a coating to a bridge deck requires a solid knowledge of chemistry.

Here’s the bottom line from the July BLS report on Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS): “The ratio of unemployed persons per job opening was 1.3 in July 2016.”

Think about it: For every job that exists right now, we only have one unemployed person to fill it. Of course, that might be good news if every job required the same skills and if all jobs were equally distributed geographically. That isn’t the case. Some skill sets–in mechatronics for example–are already desperately lacking. And some parts of the country are already near zero unemployment. Unfortunately, if we simply create “more jobs,” we’re going to create even more of those in-demand jobs. Chances are we’ll create a disproportionate share of them in areas near full employment.

In other words, we no longer have a jobs shortage. We have a skills gap.

Millions of workers have simply left the workforce because their education and training aren’t leading them to good employment. Those are the people for whom “more jobs” is a powerful appeal. But 21st century employment requires 21st century skills. We need to make it clear that what we’re promising isn’t their “old jobs,” or a job they can simply walk into with their current skills. But we also need to make it clear that, as a society, we’re committed to innovative ways of getting them the skills they need to succeed.

 

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