By Josh Patrick
NEW YORK (AdviceIQ) -- Jobless stats drop steadily and companies being to cry for workers. Our national future may hinge on filling jobs fast. One contentious solution seems best: Workers from beyond our borders.
I recently heard Neil Howe, a demographer who pays lots of attention to social and population shifts in this country, mention that there are 4 million job openings right now. Four million.
Who imagined that? All we hear are stories about all the people who can't find work. It might be a good idea to spend at least a little time talking about this problem -- and this opportunity.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment jumped 288,000 in June and the unemployment rate declined to 6.1%. Professional and business services, retail trade, food services and drinking places and health care industries spearheaded the rosy numbers.
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What's the real story about U.S. employment, and how do we start dealing with numbers that fall short somewhere?
Start with training. During a recent television interview, Mike Rowe, host of the former Discovery Channel reality show Dirty Jobs, claimed that 1.5 million blue-collar jobs are open. Many of those jobs pay close to $100,000 per year.
He maintained that we aren't training those who are better off working blue-collar jobs than going to college. I agree: We need to stop having every student on a strict college track. Some people are just better suited for blue-collar jobs.
Get something done on immigration. The other 2.5 million of Howe's open jobs are professional and technical. It's beyond me why we don't give a green card and lawful residence to everyone who goes to school in the U.S. and graduates with either a math or engineering degree.
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, last year 990,553 immigrants got green cards. Slightly more than half (54%) already lived in this country, most from Mexico, China or India. Needed job skills qualify as criteria for a green card.
The U.S. Department of Labor's new H-1B law also aims to help employers who can't get needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce; the law's provisions authorize "the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States."
This program applies to employers needing workers in "specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability." A specialty occupation, according to the law, requires "the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of at least a bachelor's degree or its equivalent."
Making it difficult for employers to prove that a worker has a specialty unavailable in the U.S. is a waste of time. Small employers lack the time or ability to fulfill such an obligation -- another example of government regulations aimed at large employers with no thought toward small ones.
Yet small employers still provide a significant amount of the employment in our country. Such employers often have openings for technical jobs they either can't fill or have an incredibly difficult time filling. Not filling these jobs slows our potential economic growth.
Overall, we need to get over the national belief that immigration is bad. (In fact, immigration -- and the resulting contributions from new workers' paychecks -- may be the only thing to save Social Security from bankruptcy.) We need certain types of workers in this country.
If we can find people who have the skills and want to immigrate, why not let them in? Our immigration policy needn't welcome everyone -- but it does need adjustment to cover jobs we need filled now.
When we allow millions of jobs to go unfilled, we also hurt our national competitiveness. Companies can't provide great service if they lack personnel; businesses can't innovate and bring new products to market. You get the idea.
Time to stop playing politics. Filling jobs and strengthening American competitiveness are easy for both sides of the aisle to agree on.-- By Josh Patrick, CFP, founding principal of Stage 2 Planning Partners in South Burlington, Vt. He contributes to the New York Times' "You're the Boss" blog and works with owners of privately held businesses helping them create business and personal value. You can learn more about his objective review process at his website.
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