De Leon: Young Immigrants Can Meet the U.S. Need for Skilled Workers

An American Apparel factory

An American Apparel factory in Los Angeles. (Photo: Alossix/flickr)

The Labor Department reported that 227,000 new jobs were created last month.

The improving economic outlook has been good for U.S. manufacturers who were responsible for 31,000 of the new hires. And they say they intend to employ many more people in the coming months.

There is, however, a shortage of qualified American workers. According to CNN Money, the lack of machinists, tool and die makers, computer-controlled machine programmers, and operators have left businesses little choice but to look abroad.

U.S. manufacturers have increasingly leveraged H-1B visas, which allow high-skilled foreign individuals to work up to six years in the country, to fill these positions. In 2011, the Labor Department certified 39,551 H-1B visas for manufacturing positions, a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Yet less than 100 of these visas were for core factory jobs. A majority were for architecture, engineering and other non-production related jobs.

Gardner Carrick, the Manufacturing Institute’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives told CNN Money that “H-1B is never going to be the answer to the skills shortage in production jobs in manufacturing.”

“The H-1B certainly isn’t the best long-term solution,” he added. “We have to grow this talent at home.”

With the unemployment rate hovering at 8 percent, we do need to train U.S. workers, both native-born and immigrant, with the skills to work in our factories.

“These jobs are the backbone of manufacturing,” said Carrick. “These are good quality middle-class jobs that Americans should be training for.”

We should also be looking at DREAMers, undocumented youth who grew up in the United States and in whom we have already invested much through our education and other support systems. These are young, motivated Americans who want nothing more than the opportunity to contribute and be productive members of our society. They are lobbying for the DREAM Act so that they can go to college and get skills in order to work and contribute to the U.S. economy.

We are starting to climb out of the Great Recession and we should call on our elected officials and other policymakers to craft smart policy that will bring our economy back to full health, create more jobs, and lift all. The DREAM Act must be part of it.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Feet in Two Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.