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Immigrants fill jobs Americans can’t or won’t take, especially in science and medicine

Diane Stafford is workplace columnist for The Kansas City Star.
Diane Stafford is workplace columnist for The Kansas City Star.

President Donald Trump’s for-now-suspended executive order halting entry to the U.S. of people from seven foreign countries caused chaos in airports and confusion in companies that employ immigrants.

The immediate workforce impact of the seven-country edict has been small in raw numbers, but the ripple effect has been huge. Immigration law attorneys and corporate CEOs have cited widespread fear that entry bans, if put back into effect, could be expanded without warning and affect more workers.

The fear especially affects organizations that employ large numbers of foreign-born workers, particularly those who are in the United States through H-1B work visas or green cards. If they’re unable to continue employing such workers, their operations will be harmed, given that there aren’t enough willing or able U.S. workers to take the jobs.

Check out the plethora of foreign-born graduates (with honors) from America’s top science, technology, engineering and math programs. For many years, U.S. colleges and universities have been educating such top-performing students who, unless they receive work permits, return to their home nations.

A new report from CareerCast identified the “toughest jobs to fill” in America, according to its database. The top in-demand positions include high-level computer positions and health care jobs.

There aren’t enough new graduates or experienced, qualified workers to fill current data scientist, information security analyst and software engineering jobs.

Health care jobs – home health aides, medical services managers, physical therapists and registered nurses – also make the top 10 list. If you’ve been in a hospital or nursing home lately, you know simply in conversations that many of the workers are not native-born Americans.

The hardest-to-fill list is rounded out by financial advisers (such as certified public accountants), general operations managers and truck drivers.

Most of the jobs require extended or specialized education. The jobs that don’t require a specialized education often have to cope with a pool of workers who have alcohol or drug problems. Or there are too many employees who don’t show up on time, every day, willing to work.

I recently heard from a retired truck driver who has a commercial driver’s license and a clean driving record. Since he “retired” from the company he served for 39 years, his phone has rung repeatedly from employers who need him to drive for them. “There are so many job opportunities, but they can’t find people to fill them,” he told me.

This is the challenge for U.S. employers. They are importing labor capable of doing the highly skilled work Americans are not being prepared for. They are importing laborers who will do the hard physical jobs that Americans aren’t taking at the pay that is being offered.

Clearly, pay is a big issue. Jobs that don’t pay living wages (or salaries high enough to tackle education debt) don’t attract workers who have alternatives. So employers aren’t blameless in having “hard-to-fill” jobs.

But the real blame lies in a workforce that isn’t studying the tough disciplines or isn’t interested in working really hard.

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star. stafford@kcstar.com, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford, kansascity.com/workplace

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