SHRM to Trump: Focus on immigration reform, workforce training

Not only is the U.S. low on available talent, potential workers don’t have the skills needed to perform available jobs.

Johnny C. Taylor, president of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR association, says he has ideas for addressing the talent gap, such as including more employers in immigration policy conversations, and incorporating workforce training in education systems. Taylor is planning to deliver these messages following the Democratic party’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union address.

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Portraits for Johnny C. Taylor, incoming CEO at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

“People don’t realize the American birth rate has been going down since 2000, and a large amount of people can now afford to retire,” Taylor said in an interview before the address. “You do the math — that means we don’t have enough people to fill our jobs.”

Since there aren’t enough American workers to fill jobs, companies should ramp up recruiting for talent overseas to fill the gap, Taylor said. To successfully hire global talent, immigration policies need to work with, not against, employers, he said. More than half of employees surveyed by SHRM said the work visa process was a major obstacle to hiring people from abroad. Employer input can help streamline the process, Taylor said.

“We’re asking for opportunities for employers and lawmakers to collaborate to decide how many people come into this country,” Taylor said. “We need to look globally to help address the talent gap.”

To help simplify the employment process, Taylor proposes eliminating the I-9 employment verification form in favor of using E-Verify, a digital identification platform. Taylor says E-Verify would make it much easier for companies to avoid hiring undocumented immigrants because the program is able to pull files from the U.S. government and other countries. He argues the I-9 is outdated and ineffective.

“With the I-9, employers do everything they’re supposed to do and they still end up hiring people with fake Social Security cards and driver’s licenses,” Taylor said. “You can’t reproduce an electronic file. E-verifications allows us to confirm if a person is actually in the country legally so employers stay compliant with the law.”

SHRM’s 2019 State of the Workplace survey says there were 7 million U.S. jobs available in December 2018, but only 6.3 million Americans looking for work. The survey asked HR departments for feedback on the current state of hiring — 75% of respondents said they were having difficulty finding applicants with the right skill set. The survey was delivered to 20,000 SHRM members; the results were compiled from 1,028 responses.

A broad spectrum of industries have difficulty finding skilled workers to fill vacant positions, including the sciences and trades. The most common fields lacking skilled applicants are in data analysis, science, engineering, medical, carpentry, plumbing, welding and machining, according to SHRM. Of the HR teams surveyed, one third said there’s been a decrease in the quality of job applications. Taylor said that figure reflects the lack of training for skills needed to perform jobs.

“Most people think of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but skills also include welding,” Taylor said. “We have to do a better job of connecting employers and educators so students know what opportunities are out there.”

About 51% of respondents said higher education is to blame for the skills gap, according to the survey. Higher education refers to both colleges and vocational training programs. Students are under the impression both are designed to help them prepare for future careers — employers don’t seem to agree.

“Unfortunately, employers are saying graduates are not immediately hirable,” Taylor said. “We’re advocating for employers to work with students in ninth grade through college so students are prepared to do these jobs.”

What Taylor is suggesting is more of a mentorship program — connecting students with working professionals who can advise them on which training programs and college majors will help reach their goals. Taylor said he really admires Switzerland’s apprenticeship program and SHRM is currently studying it to see how the concept can be applied in the United States.

“Apprenticeships are something America can learn from,” Taylor said. “Switzerland has an amazing apprenticeship model where students learn the skills they need on the job.”

Taylor and his organization also started a campaign called “We Are Work,” which is designed to encourage employers to consider job applicants with criminal backgrounds. SHRM’s research concluded workers with criminal histories had the same performance levels — sometimes higher — of those with clean background checks, Taylor said.

“It’s not right for everyone, but the previously incarcerated can be great employees,” Taylor says. “They’re easier to retain than other workers because they don’t have as many options, and they’re grateful for the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.”

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