New research on immigration from the University of North Carolina, Rice University and the Centre for Population, Poverty and Public Policy Studies suggests that the United States should consider re-evaluating its definition of skilled workers to incorporate the informal skills of immigrant workers.
Identifying and Measuring the Lifelong Human Capital of ‘Unskilled’ Migrants in the Mexico-US Migrator Circuit draws upon a bi-national multistage research project that interviewed 320 Mexican immigrants and returning immigrants in Guanajuato in Mexico and North Carolina. The study identified lifelong human capital ‒ social and technical skills and knowledge ‒ that has been acquired and transferred during the course of the careers of the immigrants involved.
The researchers found that these immigrants’ skills included not just English and basic education but also social and technical skills and competencies that have been acquired on an informal basis on and off the job over the course of their lives, and that these are skills are used in domestic, hospitality, construction and retail work. Acquiring these skills through some sort of accredited process proves very beneficial to immigrant workers, says Rice University assistant professor of sociology Sergio Chavez, who co-authored the paper, but substantial informal skills are ignored by the US labor market.
“Unlike migrants whose human capital is largely acquired in formal learning environments leading to credentialed and organized knowledge, we discovered that migrants in our study with low levels of education acquire most of their skills informally through interaction and observation both on and off the job,” Chavez says. He went on to add that such individuals “often have much to contribute to the US labor markets.”