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The Contribution of Immigrants to Workforce Readiness

Call center in Oklahoma

A call center in Oklahoma. (AP Photo)

February 14, 2013

One of our top priorities in the near term must be boosting economic growth and ensuring that we have the workers to do so. Still, while our sluggish economy has adversely affected job creation in many sectors, it may come as a surprise that many jobs are still left unfilled during these difficult economic times.

The challenge is that the U.S. has a talent mismatch, which helps to stymie economic growth. Every month more than 3 million job openings are unfilled because companies cannot find the right talent for the job.  At the same time, more than 7 million people are unemployed.

This talent mismatch hurts economic development. Without the human resources and capacity to support their business needs, companies cannot produce or service all of their clients.

In a survey conducted by ManpowerGroup, 9 of 10 CEOs said that finding the right talent is a top concern and priority for their business. For them, future expansion will not be possible without addressing talent shortages.

At the same time, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States who cannot do the jobs for which they may have the right training and skills. These immigrants work, but they have to hide in the shadow and therefore generally perform any job that happens to come their way.

An example of this talent dilemma is the shortage of nurses—a phenomenon that is partly due to the lack of teachers available to train the volume of nurses needed. Yet there is an abundance of registered nurses that are in the United States without authorization. These trained professionals often work in the fields or as janitors since their documentation status prevents them from filling vacant nursing jobs. 

Does this mean that immigration reform is the solution to some of the talent shortage?

No, that would be a big stretch. However, it will certainly help mitigate the talent shortage since there are already very skilled people in the United States who can help to fill open positions. As immigration reform is being addressed, we need to think about this opportunity for the economy.

In short, comprehensive immigration reform will help address the talent shortage and will leverage the cumulative knowledge among this population of immigrants that already exists. Available skills and talent cannot be wasted.  In addition, the consumer spending generated by newly authorized workers would then create additional jobs across the economy.

Above all, reform will help society to better understand the new world we live in—one where global competitiveness depends on resisting temptations toward isolation. The global economy demands innovation, technological development, productivity and the understanding of cultural nuances to make headway in existing and emerging markets and to maintain the competitive advantage that the United States has and cannot lose.

Our global might is strengthened by the notion of the American Dream. Immigration reform will allow more qualified workers to do the jobs for which they are trained while continuing to attract the immigrants that have always made the U.S. strong.   

Jorge Pérez is Senior Vice-President of North America at Manpower.