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The skills gap is probably not due to an absolute shortage of skills, but to differences in the skills that are supplied and demanded. In other words, the problem is not that workers do not have skills. The problem is that the skills they have are not the skills employers want. As the UK maritime sector seeks to set up an industry-wide programme to attract young people to maritime careers, it needs to also consider why an increased emphasis on maritime skills in schools and universities may not help to reduce the sector skills gap? The sector needs to recognise that students have a choice about what skills they acquire and whether they use these skills on the job market. As long as wages in the sector do not reward certain skills, they will either chose not to acquire these skills, or even if they do, they will find employment in other occupations. Perhaps as part of its ‘Shaping our Career Ambition’ the UK maritime sector needs to identify the underlying frictions that prevent wages from reflecting skills shortages and thus closing the skills gap? So the next time someone in the maritime sector tells you about the skills gap, ask them why it does not raise wages for the type of workers that are hard to find? Is it possible that these businesses are willing to raise wages, but unable to do so? One argument along these lines that is often offered is that a firm would not be competitive anymore if it were to raise wages for scarce skills. This argument fails to convince. If all businesses in an industry experience difficulties hiring a particular skill, a firm that would raise wages for that skill above the going rate would not only attract sufficient applicants, but could potentially choose the best workers, luring them away from their competitors. It would seem that such a move would make the firm more, not less competitive.

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