WASHINGTON — Five years after the onset of the global economic crisis, economic growth and employment remain atop policy agendas in countries worldwide. The crisis has refocused governments’ attention on the fundamentals on which their economies are built. More than ever, human capital is seen as the ultimate resource. As a result, policymakers face the challenge of ensuring that workers have the skills and abilities to find productive employment and contribute to growth, innovation and competitiveness in constantly evolving labor markets.
Migrants’ skills are often seen as an untapped resource that, with the right formula of policies, can bolster competitiveness, fuel productivity and facilitate integration. All too often, immigrant workers across the skills spectrum experience various forms and degrees of transitional assistance needs — resulting from gaps in technical or professional competencies, limited host-country language proficiency or poor literacy for those who failed to complete formal education.
In Maximizing Potential: How Countries Can Address Skills Deficits within the Immigrant Workforce, Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Policy Analyst Meghan Benton explores the ample toolbox that policymakers have at their disposal to craft a successful skills development strategy, including language and workforce training, reforms to public employment services and training programs, and employer engagement. The report notes that little is known about the long-term effectiveness of these programs, whether targeted or mainstream, and explores the challenges inherent in designing courses for immigrants who differ by educational and skills backgrounds, host-country language proficiency and more.
“There can be lasting adverse effects when workforce preparation gaps prevent migrants from getting decent jobs with the potential for upward mobility,” said MPI President Demetrios Papademetriou. “The inability of high-skilled immigrant workers to get jobs commensurate with their skills and experience represents wasted talent. Further, middle- and low-skilled workers who are unable to support their families may end up in a cycle of poverty and the most disadvantaged may become a net drain on public resources and transfer socioeconomic disadvantage to their children.”
The report examines the practical, conceptual and institutional challenges to realizing the promise of utilizing immigrants' endowments more fully. Among them: migrants are more likely to have unique learner profiles (for example high educational attainment but a need for basic language skills); the reality that all of the actors involved in immigrants’ skills development — employers, policymakers, service providers and migrants themselves — have reason to prioritize finding work quickly over developing skills in the long run; and the fact that the development of migrants’ skills depends on multiple agencies at different layers of government as well as employers and non-governmental actors.
The report also provides recommendations for overcoming these challenges and balancing early access to the labor market against the country’s long-term skills needs, including adapting mainstream systems to accommodate diversity and reducing opportunity costs in accessing skills training.
“Immigration can be an opportunity rather than an obstacle for workforce development systems,” Benton said. “Considering the demographics that all advanced industrial societies confront, those that build institutions robust enough to accommodate the complex learner profiles of migrants will be on much better footing to meet the skills challenges of the future.”
Today’s report is the first in a series produced by MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration that assesses what governments can do to make the most of both immigrant and domestic sources of human capital across the skills spectrum. The Council is a unique deliberative and advisory body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community. Reports issued in the coming days will examine workforce development systems in the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany, and the series will end with a conclusory statement that distills the Council’s knowledge in this area and outlines how governments must design strategies that maximize their countries’ human-capital resources.
Read the report issued today at: www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/TCM-Skills-ImmigrantWorkforce.pdf.
And for more on the Transatlantic Council on Migration, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/transatlantic.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.