In the last ten years, Vermont’s workforce has declined by a staggering 6%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. So, the state has been eager to attract new residents to reduce the acute labor shortages that they have been facing. Now, Vermont has turned its attention to attracting immigrants to fill those gaps by removing some of the barriers that keep New Americans unemployed or underemployed.
“Vermont could be a model state when it comes to having an employment culture that is welcoming to people from other backgrounds,” Ashe said after meeting with Chittenden County firms that hire immigrants. “The employers we spoke to said this was critical, and if we don’t do it, we’re going to be in a bad way in the future.”
Ashe has asked several Senate committees to explore ways to remove barriers to employment for the state’s immigrants, from eliminating unnecessary professional licensing restrictions to allowing driving tests in additional foreign languages. The state is also brainstorming a way to tap into funds that allow for English language learning. It is these potential provisions that may act as a major economic development tool for the future of Vermont.
These ideas came after discussions with Chittenden County employers and social service groups that work with immigrants, many of which work directly with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ Vermont field office.
One of those employers is Lake Champlain Chocolates. For decades, the Burlington-based company has hired refugees and immigrants through USCRI Vermont. This started back in the 1990s with hiring Vietnamese refugees, and today 25% of its 150 workers are foreign-born. Not only does Lake Champlain Chocolates hire refugees and immigrants, though, but they also provide English language classes, providing flexible vacation schedules to make foreign travel easier, and allowing workers to take time to celebrate holidays like Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.
It is just these kinds of efforts that have contributed to the company’s stable, reliable workforce. By contrast, other companies, especially manufacturers, are facing a recruitment and retention crisis.
USCRI Vermont has long realized the strong positive influence of refugees and immigrants to local economies and the workforce. That is one of the reasons USCRI Vermont provides support for refugee and immigrant populations to help them with unemployment and underemployment. Vermont’s thoughtfulness on this matter is one that we can only hope to see in other communities across the United States.
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