A Few [More] Thoughts on Jobs and Immigration
Traveled to Vancouver, BC this week for a leadership conference hosted by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The conference took a comprehensive, future-oriented look at human capital in the Puget Sound region.
The clear consensus was we have a lot of work to do. There is
already a serious mismatch between job openings/requirements and
available workers/skills. It is projected to get worse.
Demographers forecast a SHORTAGE – that’s right, I said a shortage –
of as many as 10 million workers in the U.S. economy by 2010 as baby
boomers leave the workforce. Despite this shortage unemployment could
hover at 5% – 6% because of the skills mismatch between new jobs and
The solutions are pretty obvious.
We must educate our workers for the jobs of the future. We need more
scientists, engineers, computer programmers and researchers – and more
of them with advanced degrees. Clearly, that is a long-term answer, and
we have been slow to react to that requirement even though we’ve seen
it coming for years.
Failing to grow our own talent, we can compete in the global
marketplace for the best and brightest from outside the region. We’ve
done pretty well at that. The quality of life here in the Pacific
Northwest is a big draw.
It’s one thing to import talent from Cal Tech and MIT. It’s something else entirely to import workers from India or China.
So what’s the difference? … About five-to-ten years and $50-$60,000.
Bringing a worker to Seattle from Boston or LA is relatively easy. A
visit to the area, a signing bonus and relocation expenses usually do
the same highly skilled, highly educated worker from overseas may
require the same visit and bonus package. It will also require an H1B
visa and work permit, assuming the hiring firm can even obtain one of
the limited number of H1B quota slots.
One speaker at the conference detailed the time consuming,
expensive, arbitrary process of bringing these highly sought after
immigrants to our shores. He saw this as limiting our region’s economic
growth. Another questioner suggested that importing talent was limiting
opportunities for American workers. A lot of people see it that way.
This is one case where I think the macroeconomic factors carry the day.
First of all, we cannot fix the education system overnight. In my
view, we have yet to really embark on that process. If we fail to
provide the needed workers, the jobs will eventually leave … to Boston,
Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle or Bangalore.
More importantly these highly educated, highly skilled workers will
not only fill jobs, they will create them. These knowledge workers will
invent, incubate and launch new firms, businesses and jobs we want
located right here in Puget Sound.
So if we cannot bring enough talented immigrants from offshore to
meet requirements, eventually firms will have no choice but to set up
business where the work can be done. We will be the big losers. We will
lose twice … losing not only the jobs sent offshore but all the jobs
that would have been created by the talented people we imported.
Congress should lift the cap on H1B visas.
Immigration is not the only solution. We still have to fix the education system. Perhaps the immigrants can help us with that.