Jobs Follow Talent: The Need for Education and High-Skilled Immigration Reform

Today, I had the opportunity to discuss the need for education and high-skilled immigration reform when I testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security at a hearing on “The Economic Imperative for Immigration Reform.”

The essence of my testimony is that while we undoubtedly have a jobs problem in this country, closer analysis shows it is also a talent and skills problem. In a world where jobs follow talent, we need to increase the skills of the American workforce if we are to succeed economically.

Education is clearly a priority. Today, we face a dual unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics last month estimated that the unemployment rate for individuals with a college degree or more is only 4.4 percent. For those individuals with only a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 10 percent. And the problem may get worse. According to a recent Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study, between 1973 and 2008, the share of jobs in the U.S. economy that required postsecondary education rose from 28 percent to 59 percent. This share is projected to rise to 63 percent by 2018. The same study shows that by 2018 we are likely to fall short on the number of college graduates our economy needs. We have a skills gap.

At Microsoft we are trying to play our part in tackling this challenge. This spring, we joined with several others to launch Washington STEM, a privately funded program to improve teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math. Last month, we also pledged $25 million over the next five years to the new public-private Washington Opportunity Scholarship that will increase the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees. Just last week, we announced a new $15 million investment in research and development for immersive learning technologies in schools across the country.

Improving education is a first-tier need, but obviously it will take time. Enhancing the skills of our country’s workforce also depends on targeted efforts to attract relatively small numbers of the best people from elsewhere in the world to bring their skills and talent to work here. A strategic immigration policy for high-skilled workers can help create more jobs here for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike. At Microsoft, we’ve seen first-hand how the combination of American talent and the best-educated from around the world can fuel innovation and job creation here in the United States. A recent University of Washington study shows that every skilled Microsoft job supports 5.8 other jobs in Washington State.

And it isn’t just about filling the near term skills gap. There should always be a place in the American economy for the best and brightest from around the world to bring their talent here, and help create other American jobs.

In our debate about how to get our nation’s economy back on track, we have to include discussion about modernizing our country’s broken immigration system, a system that hasn’t seen a major change in law since 1990. In my testimony, I outlined some specific steps our country needs to take. Given the new global mobility of jobs, the ability to add talent to our population is of the utmost importance. The U.S. needs leadership from Congress and the Administration to take the types of steps that will revitalize economic growth and job creation.

You can read my written testimony to the Senate, and that of the other witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee website. Testimony is accessible by clicking on the name of the witness. 

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