The headquarters of the Morales Group is decorated with flags of 27 countries, and the word “Welcome” written in 27 languages. It’s a reminder of the many thousands of people, from around the world that the Indianapolis-based staffing agency has helped to begin new careers in America. The Morales Group, which specializes in helping legal immigrants to find work, handles hundreds of employment contracts a week, and has upwards of 3,000 workers on its books at any one time — a sign of how vital hard-working legal immigrants are to addressing the region’s ongoing labor shortage. “We need these individuals,” says CEO and founder Tom Morales. “We have thousands of openings here in Indianapolis, and the fact is we don’t have enough people right now.”
Morales has always prided himself on having a strong work ethic. His parents, born in America but raised in Mexico, were migrant agricultural workers who picked tomatoes and other crops across the country. When they finally put down roots in Indianapolis, they raised Tom and his siblings to study hard, and to spend every spare moment tending trees and shrubs on the family’s 120-acre nursery northeast of the city. “For my dad, if you weren’t at school, then you were working,” Morales recalls. “The point was that we weren’t getting something for nothing. That was the best thing that was ever taught to us — that you do a hard day’s work, and you earn something for it.”
The bottom line is providing for their families. You can’t eliminate the brilliance of the mind, the work ethic — that’s learned and kept.
That lesson served Morales well: he thrived at school, and went on to have a long and successful career working as a civil engineer for companies including Procter and Gamble and Union Carbide. Later, as he began looking for a new project, he met with low-income Hispanics to see whether he could help them by founding a resource center or an ESL program, and found that many shared the same strong work ethic he did. “They used to say, Mr. Tom, thank you for wanting to create something, but if you could just give me a job, I’ll take care of the rest,” Morales recalls. “That really resonated loud and clear for me. I knew then that I wanted to find a way to help people who wanted to work.”
Morales knew that immigrants were hard workers, but he gained a new appreciation of their other positive qualities as his staffing business grew. Often, he says, the people who come to his flag-bedecked office are highly qualified professionals — engineers, lawyers and architects — who were underemployed because of strict American regulations. “The bottom line is providing for their families,” he says. But those workers, with their experiences and skills and education, can be a boon for American employers. “You can’t eliminate the brilliance of the mind, the work ethic — that’s learned and kept,” Morales says. “Just because you’re doing it as a general laborer rather than a professional, you don’t lose it.”
What’s needed, Morales says, are reforms to make it simpler for skilled and determined workers to come legally to the United States. “We have a system where it takes people forever to get here, even when they’re doing the right thing,” he says. “I’m all for control, but I’m also for a revamping of the system, because we need these individuals.”