U.S. manufacturing could benefit from immigration reform

February 4, 2013

U.S. manufacturing could benefit from an influx of skilled workers and engineers provided that the debate over immigration reform doesn’t get stuck in the same circle of political posturing associated with the fiscal cliff, in the opinion of leading economists.

According to Reuters, increasing concerns about a talent gap and the lack of skilled workers could encourage legislators and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to seriously consider overhauling a system that has been a topic of discussion since the 1980s. With the economy still considered to be sluggish in a number of industry sectors, the focus has turned to the benefits of improving legal migration channels and utilizing a workforce that numbers in the millions.

Although unemployment remains around the 8 percent mark, U.S. companies  have struggled in recent years to find the talent to replace an aging industrial workforce, especially in fields associated with STEM skills. Recent studies have shown that workers with STEM education – science, technology, engineering, math – are in relatively short supply, with students preferring to head towards high-tech industries such as software design or computing.

With U.S. manufacturing enjoying a revival in recent months, the concern among economists and industry analysts is not that growth will drop, but that the increase in production and orders may overwhelm an industry that has successfully adopted the principles of lean enterprise.

The U.S. economy has also been boosted by the decision of a number of high-profile companies to increase their domestic output, with the consensus being that this was influenced in part by the availability of a talented and dedicated workforce.

However, there is a school of thought that feels the gains made over overseas competitors could be lost, with industry analysts citing the so-called talent gap as one reason why a commitment to quality management in manufacturing may not be enough.

“Numerous industries in the United States can’t find the workers they need, right now even in a bad economy, to fill their orders and expand their production as the market demands,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration specialist at the libertarian Cato Institute, in an interview with the news source.

While the debate is unlikely to be resolved in the near future, President Barack Obama has stressed that talent trained in the U.S. needs to be kept in the country, citing the fact that millions of STEM students are forced to leave after completing their studies. Immigration reform remains one of his top priorities, while economists believe that increasing legal migration and retaining potential foreign workers could add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next decade.