“When You’re Talking about Workforce Strategies, You Have to Talk About Immigrants”

Denise Reid understands how crucial immigrants are to growing a community’s workforce and economy. As executive director of Mosaic & Workforce at Tulsa Regional Chamber in Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District Chamber, an organization with over 3,000 members and an MSA of roughly one million, it is her job to develop inclusive and competitive workforce strategies for the region. But she faces a major obstacle: “We already have a global talent shortage,” Reid explains. “So when you’re talking about workforce strategies, you have to talk about immigrants. And right now, there’s not enough visas for high-skilled workers to meet the need of business and industry. There just isn’t.”

It’s true. Though Tulsa’s population of nearly 220,000 immigrants work in every sector from the service industry to energy, finance, and education, Reid’s says labor shortages have consistently been a problem for the area’s businesses. When she managed recruiting for 9,000-plus employees at a major car rental company from 2004 to 2008, she remembers “constantly struggling to get the talent we needed. We actively engaged recent graduates as part of our strategies to attract skilled, in-demand talent and then we could not get our visas approved to keep them in the United States.”

If we do a better job of welcoming our immigrant populations, help them navigate through the process of getting civically involved at the city, county, state, and federal levels early in the process as they’re becoming citizens—because their voices matter—imagine what they can do in a city.

So, what’s the solution? According to Reid, legislators and business owners need to view immigration reform as a way to keep America competitive on the global stage. “Going after the best talent possible creates innovation and creativity, it introduces different thoughts and perspectives, and it is absolutely what creates better business models,” she asserts, pointing to successful multinational companies such as Deloitte. “We’re built on immigrants, yet we don’t want to let immigrants in. Meanwhile, other countries have set up better systems to take the high-skilled talent we used to attract away from us.”

That “big picture” mentality should also apply to our education systems. “The international students we’re educating who used to stay in our communities after they graduated are going back to their countries of origin,” she says. “So we’re growing them, but we aren’t keeping them. Instead, we’re putting ourselves at a huge disadvantage by building the workforce of other countries using the same pool of people who previously helped power our own economy.”

Finally, Reid says there are better ways to maximize the talent these new Americans bring. This is especially true in Oklahoma where bilingual workers are a huge asset at the many call centers and shared services organizations located around the region. “Immigrants have a cultural competency that’s much different than what most people in our state have, so the opportunity to have them brought up through talent and succession planning is a pretty amazing,” she says. “If we do a better job of welcoming our immigrant populations, help them navigate through the process of getting civically involved at the city, county, state, and federal levels early in the process as they’re becoming citizens—because their voices matter—imagine what they can do in a city. It will create the leadership and talent supply pipeline that Tulsa needs to continue to grow.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…