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A different perspective on the labor crisis in the green industry

Photo: iStock.com/MCCAIG
Photo: iStock.com/MCCAIG
Photo: iStock.com/MCCAIG
Photo: iStock.com/MCCAIG

Over the past several years, many articles have covered the labor shortage and what steps employers may take to become more attractive, create more engagement and retain workers. I’ve been on this bandwagon myself. This column offers a different perspective.

Wouldn’t we all love to discover a solution to the labor issue? Well, there is a solution, but it’s not an easy one. It involves changing our education system and immigration policies. But first, it’s important to understand why we have a labor shortage in the first place. Then, we can focus on solutions.

Less workers

The labor shortage is, in part, a result of declining birth rates. The U.S. birth rate is half of what it was in 1950. Fewer births mean fewer workers and an aging population. Not long ago, experts warned population growth could cause a global food shortage. Today, U.S. population growth is at a historic low and could actually begin to decline.

There are many reasons for this dramatic shift in birth rates — a discussion I’ll save for another time.

The labor shortage is also a result of our education system. The U.S. continues to fall behind other leading nations in educational outcomes, despite spending enormous amounts of taxpayer money on federal and state bureaucracies and administration. I’ve hired college graduates who can’t spell or construct a sentence. Less than half of all third graders in Michigan can read at an acceptable level. We have a serious problem, and throwing more money at it is not the solution.

In addition, we’re living in an information age, where careers in the digital space are abundant. Global connectivity allows us to work from anywhere in the world, something unheard of in previous generations.

However, there is an overemphasis on postsecondary education and a lack of emphasis on learning essential trades. Apprenticeships, which predominated before government-run schools became the norm, are few and far between. While there are new and exciting career options, we still need construction workers, electricians, plumbers and landscapers for society to function.

We can do something

There is no easy solution. On the other hand, change will never occur unless someone makes it happen. Maybe that is you. Or maybe that is each one of us speaking up and taking action where we can in our communities. Our educational system needs a radical overhaul, in my opinion. We can learn from other nations that have had success with other models. We can elect people at the local, state and federal levels who are able to push through necessary changes.

In the same way, our immigration system is failing us and needs radical reform. For decades, immigration reform has been a politically charged issue, and our elected representatives have been unable to change our broken system. The only thing we all agree on is that our system doesn’t work and that it needs to be changed. This stalemate has gone on for decades and needs to come to an end.

The reality is people from all over the world want to live and work in the U.S., and every industry needs workers. There is enormous supply and demand. What we’re missing is a group of elected representatives who can connect the dots.

Nobody knows how many undocumented people are in the U.S. and how many are working without proper documentation. Employers should not have to bear the burden of the government’s failures. Nor should employers have to carry the risk of hiring undocumented workers when our government has neglected its responsibilities.

Immigration reform has been attempted and failed during every administration in my lifetime, if I’m not mistaken. There’s no benefit to pointing fingers at any one political party or administration. Until there is radical reform, everyone is to blame. When will we send people to Washington who can work with others — including people they disagree with — to solve our nation’s biggest problems? Why do we reelect career politicians who have been in Washington for decades and have failed to solve these problems? We all have a hand in this.

What’s your perspective on the labor issue? I’d love to hear from you. My email is phil.harwood@tamariskadvisors.com.

Now go forth.

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