Challenge Accepted: Solving Georgia’s Labor Crisis

by Chris Clark, President & CEO, Georgia Chamber

Across our state, workforce shortages persist, impacting every industry and size of business. And though we have witnessed an unprecedented global pandemic, this war for talent existed long before 2020 as employers began to experience mismatched skill sets in their job candidates. Notwithstanding, COVID-19 accelerated this trend, forcing many to retire, resign or reprioritize and this only served to exacerbate the skills shortage gap. At the same time, Georgia has seen unmatched years for economic growth and remains the top state in the nation in which to do business. With job opportunities continuing to come to Georgia and workforce shortages at our doorstep, addressing this short- and long-term challenge becomes a high priority for continued prosperity and mobility. How do we fill the talent gap for supply and demand? 

The Georgia Chamber and the statewide business community are acutely aware of COVID-19’s impact on our economy and businesses. While some closed, many survived only to face higher operating costs, diminished revenue, increasing inflation and worker shortages. In Q2 of this year, data showed that there were at least 406,000 job openings, but only 231,000 Georgians registered for unemployment. To bridge the gap, creative, new, and perhaps even unconventional solutions are needed to meet our current shortages.  

One strategy of many, being explored by the Georgia Chamber, is that of the Global Talent Initiative (GTI). GTI was designed to take a deeper dive into barriers that exist for legal immigrants at the federal and state levels. What we found was that over 87% of legal, foreign-born individuals in Georgia are of working age, representing a more expansive talent pool than previously identified. Yet, skills are mismatched, and education is needed. So, let’s logically put this picture together. Georgia already needed talent before the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated that need. And we have an untapped talent pool of legal citizens that simply need training to fill open positions. Ensuring a path exists for these eligible workers to pursue technical college or a four-year degree that will place them in one of these 400,000+ opportunities is one essential solution to the talent shortage. Georgia farmers, technology companies, small businesses and the hospitality sector have traditionally benefited from these vibrant worker communities and are in desperate need of them today. 

Obviously, we want all things to be legal in our pursuit for economic recovery and resiliency. Employing the whole of this available workforce also requires targeted immigration reform. Immigrants have already made substantial contributions to Georgia’s economy, especially in industries most impacted by the pandemic. One in ten nurses in Georgia is foreign-born and nearly twenty percent of home health aides are also foreign-born. Additionally, nearly 34,000 workers in the transportation and logistics sector are immigrants. Sixty-three percent of Georgia voters agree that their contributions as essential workers make them critical to the state’s economy.  

Unfortunately, there are legal, foreign-born individuals in Georgia who are not able to fully contribute to our economy due to our nation’s outdated immigration system, limited access to an earned pathway to citizenship, and other regulatory barriers. These factors limit their ability to meet workforce needs, including those in high-demand industries and sectors poised for significant long-term growth. The Georgia House of Representatives’ Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent is currently examining opportunities to reduce those barriers and push our state forward. Further proposals currently being considered by the U.S. House and U.S. Senate would reduce additional barriers for foreign-born individuals. The bipartisan Dream Act in the Senate will provide hardworking young immigrants, or Dreamers, who undergo a strenuous application process, to legally live, work, and receive access to education within their home states as they work toward legal citizenship. With this path in place, more hard-working individuals across the country can legally and directly answer the call for workforce solutions.  

As Georgia continues its recovery, creative solutions to this long-term talent crisis become essential to our efforts. The pandemic has challenged all of us to innovate, to change and to adapt in ways that we never would have even remotely considered or believed to be possible. The case for legal immigration reform and talent solutions is no different. The Georgia Chamber will continue to work with job creators, educators, advocates, and Georgia’s talented workforce to identify more solutions and ensure a long-term qualified labor force for high paying jobs. Learn more by visiting www.gachamber.com/foundation.   

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