The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Category Archives: Talent Pipeline

Immigration relief: The right thing is also the smart thing

It’s not always the case that doing what’s right is also doing what’s smart, but when it is, the question of “what to do” should be pretty simple. That’s the case with reducing uncertainty for immigrants who are working to contribute to American society, and that’s why I fully support the Obama administration’s new policy of granting administrative relief to certain young immigrants.

Here’s why it’s the right thing to do. For the young people eligible for relief under the new policy, America is the only home they have ever known. Their whole lives are here, and returning to their countries of origin, where they have few connections and often don’t even speak the language, makes little sense for them.

Here’s why it’s the smart thing to do. Our young immigrants have a lot to offer. They are motivated and hard-working, and in many cases have already contributed significantly to our society – by excelling in school, by volunteering in their communities, or by serving in the military. We may have high unemployment, but we also have growing numbers of job openings, already in the millions, that remain unfilled because companies can’t find the right workers. In many cases, the young people offered relief by this new policy are exactly the workers we most need. The bottom line is that it’s a smart move for our economy to keep them here.

We at Year Up are all too familiar with the lose-lose situation that results from deporting people unnecessarily , and in reading about the administration’s new policy the story of one student from our first classes in Boston springs to mind. This student was brought to the US from Colombia as a young child and he and his family were granted political asylum. While their case went through the courts, he grew up in Boston, attended public school, worked hard, met his future wife, and had a child of his own. I remember conducting his admissions interview and learning that he had supported himself through high school by working at Starbucks. He was a star in our program and everyone from our instructors to his supervisors at a major financial institution was impressed by his talent and work ethic. He would undoubtedly have been hired if not for the uncertainty around his immigration status. Shortly after graduation (at which he was the graduation speaker), the courts summarily dismissed the political asylum case (along with thousands of others in a post 9/11 knee jerk reaction), and instead of gaining the full-time employment he had earned, he went underground – working odd jobs off the books to support his child. He did, eventually, get caught, and was placed in an immigration detention center before being sent back to Colombia, thousands of miles from his family and community.

Would you consider it a wise move for our country to send a smart, motivated person like that away when our companies are clamoring for more talent like his – and his specifically? For whom exactly is justice being served there?

As I said, this young man was really talented, and of course he landed on his feet in Colombia and has continued to excel there. But he lost his family in the process, and while he began contributing to the Colombian economy, the financial institution that would have hired him had to look for someone to fill his place. With the new policy set forth by the Obama administration, and hopefully with more permanent action by Congress, we will retain such productive members of society going forward, and in doing so give new hope to these young people and to our economy.

The “Try Before You Buy” Job Creation Model

Ask any political candidate what the US can do today to create more jobs, and he or she will likely suggest solutions such as implement a job-creation tax credit, create an infrastructure bank, or fully fund the AmeriCorps program. Sure, these fixes will lead to job creation in the medium term, but what can our country do to ensure jobs are available now?

Let’s take a step back. There’s no argument that unemployment is a major problem in the United States today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 14 million people are unemployed; this amounts to just over 9 percent of the entire US population. Any job hunter will tell you about the frustration they face in searching for a position that matches their skills and provides an income, as well as benefits, job security, and room for growth. Listen a bit closer, however, and you will also hear frustration from hiring managers at top American companies about the lack of talent they are finding in the candidate pool: there are 3 million job vacancies in the United States today; filling them today would decrease unemployment by a few percentage points! Clearly, we have a problem in the labor exchange market that needs to be fixed, and fixed now.

What we could do immediately is offer $10,000 to any employer with one of those three million vacancies. The money could then be used to pay the wages of an unemployed person for three months, giving time to train that person in a skill the employer needs. At the end of three months, the employer could choose whether or not they want to hire the individual. Call it a “try before you buy” model, or a risk-free hiring process.

One program that is already implementing a version of this is Georgia Work Ready. It is the only program of its kind to be conducted through a partnership between a state government and a state chamber of commerce. Work Ready provides a skills assessment and certification for job seekers and a job-profiling system for businesses. By identifying both the needs of business and the available skills of Georgia’s workforce, the state can more effectively generate the right talent for the right jobs. In 2010 alone, more than 14,000 Georgians found work using their Georgia Work Ready certificate.

This model is promising. If other states followed suit, we would find ourselves with a better prepared workforce, fewer job vacancies, and more marketable talent with better paths for success, not to mention greater efficiency in the hiring process for companies. This would lead to a stronger economy over the long run and help the US to better compete in the global economy.

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