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Workforce Woes 3: Cultural Change 1

(July 16, 2007)  Maybe it's more extreme here in Northern California, but I don't think so.

Early this summer, I spent a week or so in New England. One of my stops was a large "premium outlet mall" between Providence, RI and Boston, MA. I was looking for some Sony gear for the Recruiting Roadshow.

While I was surprised by the fact that the public address system gave bilingual announcements (Spanish and English), the crowd seemed evenly split between Latinos and Whites. What really got my attention was the attitude of the workers behind the counters.

Unlike Northern California where retail workers are heavily non-white, it seemed like the clerks in New England were my mother's peers. Little old white ladies were everywhere. And, they were angry.

I always take the time to engage the workers in the stores I patronize. I have a couple of standard lines designed to bring a smile to the face of a harried clerk. With a decade of early history as a retail worker or restaurant employee, I have a deep sympathy for the often thankless work required of this group. Long hours on your feet repeatedly answering the same questions with a smile is a supreme challenge.

As I talked with the workers in this bastion of liberal culture, it became clear that they felt that they had lost something to the throngs of immigrants and new citizens who were the clients of this mall. "They're ruining everything." "Remember when it was 'our' country?" As soon as I made it clear that I was sympathetic and safe to talk to, a snarling racism, built on xenophobia, flowed from the lips of these grandmas.

For our (United States) economic juggernaut to continue uninterrupted, we have to supplement our ranks with immigrants. As I mentioned in the last article, our population growth is flat. If we relied exclusively on native born citizens as the source of our population, it would stay right around 300,000,000. All of the government's population forecasts depend on immigrants and their offspring for continued population growth.

Without population growth, there is no economic growth.

That means that our culture will continue to be disrupted by the addition of new mores and manners from other lands. In order to continue to pursue the "American Dream", which depends on economic growth, our society will have to continue to be open. More than a few grandmas will have their feathers ruffled.

More importantly, businesses, which have had a couple of generations of an immigrant-free labor supply, are going to need to revise their job requirements. By looking at performance requirements rather than cultural nice-to-haves, talent acquisition can continue apace in spite of changes in the labor supply.


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