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(September 07, 2006)
  This is the third article in a series that begins with War 1 and War 2. The notion of a looming Talent Shortage has been a part of the recruiting landscape for a decade and a half. Is it real or not?

Today, over 35 million (12% of population) of the people who live in the United States were born in other countries. The percentage has tripled since the mid 1970s when it had reached an all time low of 4%.  The wave of European immigration that peaked in the late 1930s had lasted nearly 199 years. The US, for a variety of reasons, took a break that lasted until the first Vietnamese began showing up en masse at the end of that war.

(The numbers are probably understated because of the documentation problems at the lower end of the social spectrum. We assume that this is a picture of changes in the vast middle class rather than a comprehensive view.)

Figure 1. Immigrants as a total and percentage of US Population (US Census Bureau)

Baby boomers grew up in a world (that therefore shaped their assumptions) in which an immigrant was a rarity in either the peer group or the commercial world. Generation Xers had a similar experience. The members of generation Y, however, have always lived in a world in which immigrants were a working fact of life.

Figure 2. US Native Population Age Distribution (Percentage)

Over the last 35 years, immigrants have become a normal part of daily existence after a long period in which they were a rarity. A look at the second two illustrations (figures 2 and 3) help show that immigrants (foreign born people) make up well over 15% of the US Workforce. Again, this is not just in the jobs on the low end of the spectrum but across all facets of the workplace. Opportunity for advancement is great since the bulges in immigrant populations match up nicely with the dips in domestic population. A far greater percentage of the immigrant group is working than their native born counterparts.

Figure 3. Age Distribution (Percentage) Of US Immigrant Population

We've taken the time to show you this data for a number of reasons.

  1. If the labor shortage is a myth, we think the widespread belief in it is related to assumptions about available labor;
  2. Generalizing about a labor shortage is dangerous. The real question is whether or not your organization can acquire the workers it needs at a price point that allows for future growth and survival;
  3. The world has changed dramatically over the lifetimes of most organizations' current leadership. We think the dat helps clarify what the world looks like to them. (There is a corresponding set of views in the working level workforce that we'll cover at another time.)

We'll try to wrap this all up in tomorrow's piece.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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