Immigrants in the US Workplace

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Dick Locke, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on International Sourcing and Procurement. (His previous guest posts are still archived.)

The US Census Bureau recently announced that one out of six people in the US workforce is foreign born. In four states it’s more than one in four and in one state it’s more than one in three.

Here’s an excerpt from the NYTimes article Census Finds Rise in Foreign Workers:

Nearly one in six American workers is foreign-born, the highest proportion since the 1920s, according to a census analysis released Monday.

Because of government barriers to immigration, the share of foreign-born workers dipped from a 20th-century high of 21 percent in 1910 to barely 5 percent in 1970, but has been rising since then, to the current 16 percent.

In 2007, immigrants accounted for more than one in four workers in California (35 percent), New York (27 percent), New Jersey (26 percent) and Nevada (25 percent).

Do you like this? Does it make you nervous? Here’s an observation from someone in the training business. (That would be me.) A while back I had two extremely large computer companies as clients at the same time. Even though the companies were in the same field and about the same size (and had been sequentially managed by Gene Richter) there were big differences between the two.

I usually ask if any of the seminar attendees were born in a different country than where the seminars take place. I enlist those people to help in discussions of cross-cultural issues. One of the companies had a high proportion of immigrants or other temporary foreign residents in its US procurement staff. In the other, non-natives were extremely rare and those who were born elsewhere seemed almost embarrassed about it. The seminars at the company with a lot of immigrants was much higher in enthusiasm, spirit and level of discussion that the other. At one of the “all American” company’s seminars, when I suggested getting to an unfamiliar country a day early and touring a museum or some other cultural location prior to engaging in business discussions, a person chided me saying “We don’t do that at (company name).” Exactly, and it showed.

I suggest US companies make an effort to recruit people from other cultures. The ideas they bring will broaden horizons.

Dick Locke, Global Procurement Group.

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