Rebecca Tancredi, managing director, Upwardly Global, an
Are we overlooking the economic
potential of our talented immigrants?
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Human Capital
Interview August 7, 2015
John Adams, Steve
Anderson, Dave Broden (vice chair), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje
(executive director), Randy Johnson, Dan Loritz (chair), Paul Ostrow,
Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence Shallbetter. By phone:
Kjerstin Lewis, Rebecca Tancredi
Large numbers of
immigrants are skilled in precisely the jobs that are hardest for
U.S. employers to fill, according to Rebecca Tancredi, managing
director, Upwardly Global,
Chicago, IL, an immigrant-assistance firm.
Upwardly Global estimates that the talent
pool of highly skilled, educated new Americans is more than 1.8
Talented immigrants need help in preparing
resumes' and preparing for interviews to avoid misunderstandings,
Tancredi says. Moreover, immigrants often face ill-considered limits
on qualifications to take professional licensing exams, she says.
The United States could be more
purposeful, as is Canada, in bringing in people with skills the
nation needs, according to Tancredi.
Rebecca Tancredi is managing
director for Upwardly Global for the Midwest. Upwardly
Global's mission is to eliminate employment barriers for skilled
immigrants and help them to integrate into the professional
workplace. In this role Tancredi works with employers across
the Midwest to help them connect to diverse, highly skilled
immigrants, refugees and asylees who come to the U.S. with extensive
professional backgrounds and full work-authorization.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are over 1.8
million skilled immigrants who are un- or underemployed in the U.S.
When regions can better capitalize on this talent pool, they can
solve some of their current and upcoming workforce shortages.
By teaching new Americans how to conduct a
successful U.S. job search, Upwardly Global has helped thousands of
immigrants move from low-skilled work to professional positions with
family sustaining wages. Prior to Upwardly Global, Rebecca
worked in corporate HR and was responsible for staffing and
innovative talent development programs. She has a bachelor's
degree in Human Resources from Ohio State University
Background. Today's interview is a
followup to two Civic Caucus statements on human capital:
offering recommendations for maintaining a
high-quality workforce in Minnesota.
Skilled immigrants can play a role in helping with shortages in the
workforce. Rebecca Tancredi
of Upwardly Global for the Midwest said her organization's mission
is to eliminate employment barriers faced by skilled immigrants and
refugees and to help them integrate into the U.S. workforce. "We've
had great success in moving skilled immigrants from unemployment or
low-skilled jobs into professional positions, often in the
highest-demand sectors of our economy," she said.
Minnesota has a great deal of opportunity
because of its significant skilled- immigrant population.
Upwardly Global has just started a pilot project of working with
immigrants in the Twin Cities. Tancredi said the organization is
currently exploring funding partners in the area. "We're really
interested in Minnesota and think we could play a strong role
there," she said.
The employment barriers skilled immigrants
face are very solvable. A lot of the problem, Tancredi said, is
immigrants' lack of understanding of how to do a professional job
search. Immigrants would send resumes with the wrong type of
information or, if they had an interview, would do things in the
interview that are culturally normal in their home country, but not
in the U.S.
Tancredi said Upwardly Global does two
It works on the job seekers' side, helping them with their
resumes, coaching them to talk about their achievements during an
interview, to give a firm handshake, and to make direct eye
It also works with employers, who are very interested in the
immigrant talent pool. But they often make mistakes, as well,
Tancredi said. They may make the assumption that an immigrant
needs sponsorship, which is expensive and time-consuming. But, in
fact, all the immigrants Upwardly Global works with are already
fully and permanently work authorized. Employers can become more
sensitive to cultural issues and can learn to probe to get to the
real issue-whether the immigrant has the skills to do the job.
This year, Upwardly Global will place
about 640 immigrants in professional jobs and raise their family
income by an average of $38,000 per placement. "It really
changes the economic stability of the family," Tancredi said. She
pointed out that over 50 percent of Upwardly Global's placements
nationally are in positions employers report as the most difficult
to fill. And Upwardly Global's employer partners report increased
diversity in their workforce and the ability to work in global
markets as key advantages of hiring immigrants, she said.
Upwardly Global alumni maintain a
retention rate of over 90 percent after one year of employment. She
said the alumni tend to be very loyal to the business that helped
them break the employment barrier. The retention rate also reflects
the ability of immigrants to adapt to the American workforce, she
It's estimated that the size of the talent
pool of highly skilled, educated "new Americans" is more than 1.8
million. Tancredi said immigrants, refugees and asylees have
arrived in the U.S. ready to work, but can't find good jobs in their
area of expertise. They are unemployed or underemployed in
semi-skilled or unskilled job positions making poverty-level wages,
she said. In Illinois, she said, the number is around 300,000.
Nationally, Upwardly Global has served
1,250 people this year and will serve 1,500 next year. "There's a
huge population and clearly, we're not serving everyone," she said.
In Minnesota, the trend is toward
increasing numbers of immigrants. The percentage of foreign-born
individuals in Minnesota, Tancredi said, rose from 7.2 percent in
2000 to 10 percent in 2012. Migration into the state will help
sustain Minnesota's population, she said, since its natural
population growth will decline until 2050. According to Minnesota
State Demographic Center projections, she said, the state needs an
additional 83,100 net new in-migrants between 2016 and 2020 to
maintain its present labor force growth of five percent.
Immigration helps offset the decline of
younger age groups. New immigrants are disproportionately in
their early working years, Tancredi said. The largest age category
of new immigrants in 2012 was the 25-to-34 year-old group. "We see
that in the people we work with at Upwardly Global," she said.
"Often they are young people trying to take advantage of winning a
green card in the diversity lottery. That's definitely true of the
immigrants we have worked with in Minnesota."
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV
Program) makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually. Visa
winners are drawn in a random selection among all entries from
countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The DV
Program is administered by the U.S. Department of State. Most
lottery winners reside outside the U.S. and immigrate through
consular processing and issuance of an immigrant visa.
The refugee population is another
significant group in Minnesota. When employers think of
refugees, they usually don't think a refugee might be an engineer
they could hire, Tancredi said. The U.S. policy with refugees, she
said, is to try to make them independent as quickly as possible.
This often results in them taking jobs below their skill level.
As immigrants make up a greater percentage
of the workforce, she said, cities and states that capitalize on the
pool of skilled immigrants will have an advantage economically.
And that will help shift perceptions on immigration from a problem
to a source of economic advantage, Tancredi said. "Shifting those
perceptions can bring greater opportunities for smart immigration
policy that is designed to help the U.S. address workforce issues
strategically," she said.
City and State workforce agencies should
specify the ways they would like immigrants considered in their
state plans, and recognize foreign-educated workers who are
unemployed or underemployed as dislocated workers eligible for use
of funding issued via the reauthorized Workforce Innovation and
Opportunity Act (WIOA).
Employers say workforce-training programs
are not producing workers with the skills they need. Tancredi
said employers feel many training programs are not preparing people
for the jobs most in demand or not preparing them adequately. "It
could be that some employers have unrealistic expectations," she
said. An internship path is a great way to get past this barrier,
she said, since hiring managers want to hire someone who hits the
ground running. It's not usually what they get, so employers must do
some training on the job.
Internships can provide an opportunity for
skilled immigrants to close any gaps between what they know and any
new skills they might need on the job. Tancredi said her
organization has an internship partnership with a group in Boise,
Idaho. One of the main drivers for the Boise initiative, she said,
was that the city and state were losing out on companies locating
there because the population is not diverse. "They are intentionally
trying to diversify their talent base to attract those companies,"
The Boise group has funded 250 internships
and Upwardly Global is one supplier of candidates for those
internships, which Tancredi said are helpful to their clients. For
example, a number of Upwardly Global clients might be great with
technology and have computer science backgrounds, she said, but the
technology they've been using in their home countries could be
behind what's used in the U.S. Internships provide the immigrants
the learning experience to close any such gaps.
Policy can influence this workforce issue
and help different states and employers access the talent pool of
skilled immigrants. As an example, Tancredi pointed out that
every state has a different approach to licensing engineers. Civil
engineers must be licensed as professional engineers before to
secure jobs at the level of previous positions. . People who
graduate from a U.S. engineering school can take the initial
fundamentals of engineering licensing test immediately after
graduation which is step one in the process. In Michigan,
engineering graduates from foreign schools can also take the
licensing test immediately.
That's not true in Illinois, she said.
Engineering graduates must work for four years under a licensed
engineer before they can take the licensing test. Because of this
requirement, she said, Upwardly Global clients in Illinois will take
the test in Michigan and, if they pass, put it on their resume.
"Michigan is being very smart about this issue," she said. "They are
funding us to attract engineers and to get them to move to Michigan.
And that is happening."
While Upwardly Global's ultimate goal for
each client is a long-term job position, the organization sometimes
uses short-term contract jobs to give clients U.S. work experience.
More than half of Upwardly Global's
immigrant clients have skills in job areas that are the hardest for
U.S. employers to fill. Tancredi said the organization's four
largest placement areas are in engineering, technology, finance and
accounting, and health care.
Part of Upwardly Global's program is
teaching immigrants about the American business style. "Workers
from other parts of the world see Americans as very self promoting,
very achievement oriented, very goal directed and very confident,"
Tancredi said. "We value numbers and want to quantify things and
value extraversion and assertiveness. These are cultural
differences." Because Upwardly Global clients from certain countries
might be hesitant to speak up, she said, the organization teaches
people how to be heard in a meeting, how to assert oneself and how
to recognize social cues.
"While Upwardly Global is mostly about
teaching job search skills," she said, "we are completely available
to immigrants after they're placed in a job.
Most people come to Upwardly Global after
being in the U.S. between six months and five years.
Tancredi noted that Upwardly Global is
firmly established in San Francisco, New York City, Detroit,
Maryland and Chicago and works closely with refugee resettlement
agencies in those cities. In those places, Upwardly Global tends to
see refugees within six months to a year from their arrival. "But
we're not firmly established in every place where refugees are
resettling," she said.
She noted that there is a screening
process for accepting immigrants into the program. They must have a
bachelor's degree or higher and be fluent in English. The
organization prefers that they have at least two years of work
experience in their home countries.
As the discussion over immigration reform
moves forward, we should consider the economic needs of the U.S.
Tancredi said Canada has a more focused immigration policy than the
U.S. Theirs is more focused on bringing in people with the skills
needed in their countryEven still they experience great
underutilization of their new arrivals, and serve to remind us that
no immigration policy will help the US achieve its economic
objectives without a commensurate commitment to an integration
Small and mid-sized companies are really
interested in Upwardly Global's program. Tancredi said those
companies don't have the system set up to do H-1B visas, which
employers to temporarily employ foreign workers
in specialty occupations. But
Upwardly Global clients are all work certified permanently. "We
definitely have good luck with those smaller companies," she said.
But she pointed out that Upwardly Global works with both large and
Upwardly Global is funded largely through
private foundations. In addition, the organization gets some
public funding from cities and states, Tancredi said, and some
employers pay partnership fees to have access to its
Public or private staffing agencies are
another tool Upwardly Global clients sometimes use in their job
search. "Some staffing agencies understand this population
better than others and do a better job of capitalizing on it,"
Tancredi said. Agencies sometimes are able to place Upwardly Global
clients in temporary, contract or permanent positions.
Upwardly Global partners with community
colleges for referrals of clients who need extra language or skills
training. "Community colleges do a great job of teaching
immigrants English fluency to get them ready for the job search and
job placements," Tancredi said. "If people don't know English,
that's a barrier we don't currently address in our direct service
"Community colleges are also a great
source of certification or supplementary education to fill a gap in
a technical skill," Tancredi said. "We'll help advise them, but we
don't necessarily want someone with a bachelor's or master's degree
to go back and get a two-year associate degree at a community
college. But earning a certification might be really helpful in the
Some states are very aggressive in trying
to attract talent. Tancredi pointed to the Boise internship
initiative and to Michigan's very active recruiting of talent to
offset the state's population loss and to try to revitalize Detroit.
Michigan put on a large career fair recently, she said, and even
paid travel costs for some job seekers from outside of Michigan to
come and meet with employers.
"They're being very intentional," she
said, noting that more of Upwardly Global's job seekers have
relocated to Michigan than to any other state beside Texas. "There
are jobs in Michigan that align with the skills of our job seekers
and they're relocating there," she said. Upwardly Global has a
partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, she
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,