Global Talent Retention Initiative gains momentum, builds talent in Michigan
Science, technology, engineering and math disciplines are hot degrees for current and future jobs. In fact, there are more job openings in these fields in Michigan than there are qualified people to fill them. And Michigan is not yet producing enough graduates of its own to meet the demand.
One possible solution for building the talent pipeline: the world-class research universities that call Michigan home, which attract a pool of international students with exceptional qualifications for STEM jobs. The trick? Keeping that talent in the state.
Enter the Global Talent Retention Initiative, which helps students and employers navigate the complexities of immigration and work rules to allow companies to hire promising STEM graduates, and makes it easier for those graduates to stay in Michigan instead of taking their talents to another state or country.
Employers often think that the paperwork required to sponsor an international student as an employee is too time consuming and expensive. The Global Talent Retention Initiative works to educate companies about that process and understand available options. For example, employers don't pay social security or FICA taxes for international candidates, and neither does the student unless and until they become citizens, says GTRI program director Athena Trentin. That savings can often more than offset the cost of applying for the H1B visa that employers would need for an international student hire.
"We're trying to present them with the economic impact as well as the social impact and the jobs impact (of hiring international students)," Trentin says.
Another option for employers is an Optional Practical Training visa, or OPT, which allows students to get hands-on training in their field. This works well for students pursuing internships either after graduation or while they are in school, and is valid for 12 months.
Lee, a graduate student in physics at the University of Michigan who did not want his full name used, will be interning at a small startup firm via an OPT. He worked with the GTRI through the Intern in Michigan website to find a company that was willing to hire an international student and fit his academic interests.
More than a few companies specifically said they would not hire international students, he said. Bigger companies that would do so were on a tighter time schedule than Lee was able to meet. Once he got connected with Trentin and the GTRI, they helped him filter his options and successfully land his internship.
"It actually helps you to determine which companies hire international students," he says. "That can't be done by individual students because you can't know without going directly to the company whether they hire international students or not. I also think the matching part is good. You have to go through a few questions and note on a scale from 1 to 5 how much you wish to work with different types of companies." That matching process saved him time and frustration and helped him find a good fit with a company located in Southeast Michigan, where he would like to stay.
International students bring a different mindset and work ethic, says Anne Craft, CEO of online marketing firm UZoom Media, who worked with the GTRI to retain Shasha Zhang, a web developer who started as an intern, through an OPT. She credits Trentin and the GTRI with helping her through the process and allowing her to retain a valuable employee.
"She's become an absolutely integral part of our team," she says. "I know wouldn't be where we are today without her – she's a fantastic employee."
International students bring a work ethic, discipline and sense of loyalty that sets them apart, Craft says. That's especially important for her, as head of a small firm, so she's not spending time constantly retraining new employees.
"With that combination of discipline and hope for an opportunity to make things better they can really achieve success," she says. "It's an amazing combination."
Employers often worry about the perception of hiring international students amid a high unemployment rate in Michigan. However, the types of jobs available – generally jobs requiring advanced degrees in STEM fields -- can't always be filled by students from Michigan, who are generally not pursuing those types of degrees at the level international students are.
"If you know people, send them my way!" says Tel Ganesan with a laugh. He's president and CEO of Kyyba, a Farmington Hills tech staffing company that trains workers in health care information technology and places them in jobs. Ganesan admits that it isn't necessarily easy to hire international students, but with proper planning, it's worth it. "We'll jump through hoops to make it happen," he says.
With a shortage of American graduates in STEM fields, his company's options can be somewhat limited locally. Having the option to hire international students is helpful so that they can meet the needs of their clients, Ganesan says.
"It's really not about taking jobs from local graduates; it's all about supplementing above and beyond what is not in the marketplace," he says.
Rejecting international students as too difficult to hire means rejecting good, high-tech jobs, Trentin points out. If companies can't hire in Michigan for their STEM jobs, they will go elsewhere.
"Don't send [students] away -- then these jobs and companies are going to go away," she says.
Ganesan started out as an international student himself and founded his company after working in the US for a number of years, and he points out that's a pretty typical path for people who came here as students and then stayed.
"It not only can help in the short term but in the long term," he says. "All the Googles of the world, the eBays, Yahoo were created by immigrants."
Learn more about the Global Talent Retention Initiative here.