For centuries, business and government leaders have relied upon America’s pursuit of industry and innovation to attract talent from around the globe. Around two-thirds of Silicon Valley tech workers are immigrants, and the rise of remote work opens them up to a literal world of possibilities. As we adapt to this era that relies on technology, biosciences and green energy more than ever before, I must ask myself as a business leader: Has the American Dream that once lured immigrants like me to the United States changed along with everything else?
What The U.S. Offers Immigrants
The U.S. has looked to immigrants anytime we aimed to create industry. Consider the Chinese and Irish immigrants who built the railways in the 1800s, the scientists and academics who came from Europe after World War II and the Indian immigrants who make up 22% of the surgeons and physicians practicing medicine today. This is also true of the most recent industrial wave of technology. Immigrants flocked to Silicon Valley, transforming it into the progressive powerhouse that has redefined how businesses utilize and commercialize technology. But as the Silicon Valley tech boom fades to a steady hum and the Covid-19 pandemic continues to change how we approach work, we find ourselves in search of a new frontier.
The benefits that attracted me to the U.S. mirror those that drew immigrants here throughout the past century: the promise of opportunity, access to education and the American ideals that embody freedom and inspire innovation. Over the past 30 years, I, along with many others, endured the U.S.’s rigorous paperwork and visa process to tread a shorter path to the middle class that we didn’t see available back home. When the U.S. needed low-cost engineers and talent to fuel the burgeoning tech boom, the promise of good income, education, career growth and the chance to build something new produced a steady stream of tech-oriented talent from abroad. The impact of global talent on the American tech industry has been world-changing. From Google’s Sergey Brin to Tesla’s Elon Musk, 55% of the founders of billion-dollar startups are immigrants. But given the costs and complexities of our immigration policies, are the benefits to coming here still the same?
Today, opportunities are no longer location-based. The Covid-19 pandemic brought us the end of the daily commute, providing office workers with access to good-paying jobs without having to step out of their houses. Due to the growing number of remote work policies, the technology and emerging skill workforce opportunities that the U.S. once promised are available globally. Plus, Asian economies are booming, and many U.S. companies are opening offices abroad in response. Why should engineers move to the U.S. if the companies they want to work for are coming to their doorstep?
Additionally, education has been democratized through accessibility and connectivity. Once considered an American specialty, higher education has also evolved, along with the necessity of a college degree. Many engineers are self-taught, accessing the industry’s latest practices and strategies online for a low cost or no cost at all. Due to the rapid development of tech practices, colleges can’t keep up, so rather than opt for a pricey degree, engineers and hiring companies alike place more value on the ability to do the work and perform the job, regardless of educational pedigree.
This leads us to the question: How can we attract a generation of science and technology talent that has been shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic? Here are three ways.
1. Respond to the values of a new generation of talent.
Post-pandemic, values-driven Millennial and Gen-Z workers are more discerning than ever before regarding the companies they work for, along with the impact their work creates. They rate diversity, equity and inclusion as a top priority, which means a workplace that welcomes immigrants by enabling them to see themselves reflected in its culture and community.
Desiring more than just a paycheck, these workers want to dedicate their talent, skills and values to contribute to something beyond an individual career. Fortunately, U.S. business leaders are readily equipped to meet these expectations when we examine our missions through the lens of sustainability.
2. Leverage our edge as the epicenter of renewable energy and green jobs.
Through government incentives, the U.S. can lead the world in sustainable initiatives. Green energy, sustainable technology and bioscience could be our next big wave, accelerating America’s growth the same way railroads did in the 19th century. Sustainability is a hot topic for the rising talent businesses seek to attract. A recent study revealed that 71% of Millennials and 67% of Gen-Z say the climate is their top priority. With a nod from the workers who will make it happen, producing green jobs can secure our future as a global leader in the technologies that will fuel our economy and save our planet.
3. Make it easier to contribute to America’s success.
As business leaders, we must understand the New American Dream as a global one. Today, we compete with a network of global opportunities. We seek to attract a generation of talent that wants not just to enrich themselves; they want to empower communities both near and far. Rather than seeing these paradigm shifts as a roadblock, I believe this is a milestone moment for the U.S. business community as a whole. I encourage us to welcome this new era as one in which everyone can thrive by embracing the power of change.