IN THE 2023 CNBC Top States for Business rankings, Massachusetts was rated among the best states for technology and innovation, education, access to capital, and life, health, and inclusion. Similarly, in the summer of 2023, Massachusetts was rated by WalletHub as the best state to live in the country, driven by its top ranking for education and health, and its high rankings in categories such as the economy, quality of life, and safety.
While these rankings demonstrate a solid foundation for continued economic growth and success in the Commonwealth, both publications note similar warning signs: Massachusetts is an expensive place to live and do business, and according to a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report released in the spring of 2023, the state is seeing its highest outmigration numbers in the last 30 years. This tracks a May 2023 Survey of Massachusetts Business Roundtable members, where 75 percent expect some difficulty in recruiting talent over the next year.
In response to these trends, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable – a public policy organization of more than 90 CEOs and senior executives from large employers across the Commonwealth – developed a policy agenda focused on strategies to recruit, retain, develop, and diversify talent pipelines in the Commonwealth, including untapped talent sources such as “immigrant professionals with international credentials.”
A new Roundtable report, written with support from the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University, makes recommendations to do just that. The report, “Tapping Untapped Talent: How Foreign-Educated Immigrants can Strengthen the Massachusetts Economy,” seeks to highlight the challenges faced by foreign-educated college graduates and offer solutions for how this key population can fully participate in our state’s labor market.
What we found is eye-opening. The inability to connect foreign-educated college graduates with jobs that fit their skills costs the state economy about $2.3 billion per year in lost earnings and productivity. To provide some context, Massachusetts is home to about 240,000 foreign-educated immigrants, roughly 106,000 of whom are “foreign-educated college graduates,” meaning they have earned a bachelor’s degree but have not pursued graduate work. Some of these individuals, who are over the age of 25, are employed, some unemployed or underemployed—many with broad work experience—and others are still applying for authorization to work in the United States. The report further indicates that this population earns nearly 20 percent less than their US-educated peers and they face wage and employment gaps, particularly those from Africa and Latin America, whose earnings are 35-40 percent lower than their US-educated peers.
The recommendations outlined in the report seek to address many of the continued challenges faced by this immigrant population and better connect them with employers across the Commonwealth looking to hire diverse talent. Some solutions, like increased talent recruitment efforts and flexibility in hiring, require coordinated action by employers, immigrant-serving organizations, and the workforce system. Other solutions, like increased state funding for career counseling and English for work programs, new tax incentives, entrepreneurship, improvements in recognizing and translating foreign-credentials, and adjustments to licensing requirements, will fall to state government.
Progress is already underway. The Healey-Driscoll administration, through its Workforce Skills Cabinet, is working to help foreign-educated immigrants access pathways and pipelines to good jobs. In addition, programs run or supported by the African Bridge Network and English for New Bostonians, are two examples, among many, that are helping foreign-educated college graduates find paths to success.
While we focused on a narrow population of immigrants in our report, we recognize that all immigrants, regardless of their level of education, are vital to our economy. This includes the rising numbers of migrant families arriving in Massachusetts who need work authorization from the federal government to seek employment. Some of the policy recommendations outlined in the report could assist these new arrivals as they await work authorization and look for work opportunities in the state.
There is a lot that the business community, immigrant-serving organizations, and the state can do together to help foreign-educated college graduates find jobs that better match their degrees and work experience. It will take better coordination and a willingness to think differently about how we source talent. However, if we work collaboratively to break down barriers and connect these immigrant professionals to jobs that better match their degrees, we can make a large impact on people and our economy.
In the short-term, we can help foreign-educated college graduates connect to businesses struggling to find diverse employees and fill open jobs. In the long-term, we can reverse our state’s troubling population and migration trends and help the Commonwealth support immigrants who contribute to innovation and keep us at the forefront of the national economy for decades to come.
JD Chesloff is president & CEO of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.