Tuesday, September 5, 2017

We Need A Multi-Lingual Workforce In South Dakota

      We South Dakotans might as well face the fact that developing multi-lingual opportunities is probably the only realistic way to advance our economic interests.  A piece in
Immigrants Matter
last week's Sioux Falls Argus Leader showcased the problems that our state's most powerful region of economic growth, the Sioux Falls metro area, is having with this. The construction trade in particular is finding it hard to fill its workforce needs because of a built-in language barrier that's written into our state's laws.  Specifically, South Dakota's legal requirement that all government documents--including drivers license exams--be written in English is turning into an economic roadblock.  The English-only law was adopted in 1995, apparently to save printing expenses, according to a retired legislator, Mel Olson, who helped push the bill through. Olson told the Argus Leader that there was "never any intention on prohibiting giving the driver's license test in other languages."  

     Olson's deeper explanation--that the law's intent was to save the state money by blocking an effort to get official state reference guides printed in Lakota as well as English--has some questionable overtones, but regardless of the objective, the  unintended consequence now poses a problem.  This is a law that needs to be refined, if not altogether repealed.  I have some background in this.  My family came up through the immigration ranks (I was born in a refugee camp in Rome, Italy) of the post-WW II era. Nearly seventy years later I'm actually pretty glad that in our day we refugees seeking a new life here in the U.S. were by custom and circumstance totally immersed in English.  By any standard we Tsitrians have done pretty well for ourselves and our communities, an outcome that I believe was energized and accelerated by our quick adoption of English as the language of our household.  I wish that were the case for every immigrant in this country--but it isn't.  
     And the fact that it isn't has come home to roost right here in South Dakota, where we have to grapple with the fact that English immersion for immigrants will probably never be a fact of our state's economic and cultural life again.  Nostalgia for our historic character as a "melting pot" doesn't get the job of building our economy done, as a lot of South Dakota enterprises are finding out.  In Sioux Falls, the head of the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors tells the Argus Leader that immigrant labor is "hugely important" to the construction trade, a fact that anybody in the Black Hills who's had a roof installed in recent years knows first hand.  I've put up three roofs, two commercial and one residential, in the past four years and I'm pretty sure that each crew was close to 100% Spanish-speaking, with only the lead installer capable of communicating in a halting version of English on each job.  
     I doubt that roofing and other contractors here would have much luck putting adequate work crews together without Spanish-only speakers making up a good share of the workforce. The much-discussed labor shortage brought up frequently in state government circles is one that is only magnified by making it difficult for non-English speakers to gain some sort of residential and professional toehold in South Dakota.  By at least making driver's licenses accessible to them in their native tongues, as the Sioux Falls business community is promoting, our state will probably be doing itself some good on the economic development front.  

6 comments:

  1. John, The problem goes much deeper than that. With its EB-5 program which grants a green card to anyone with 500k, the state of South Dakota looks the other way when it comes to the fact that the additional requirement that the green card holder provides ten jobs for US Americans. The jobs in question will not in most cases be filled by Americans and hence need to be filled by foreign workers, in most cases undocumented workers.

    I have contacted our three legislators in Washington, 3 or 4 times in the past dozen years asking them to fix the problem of the undocumented workers, and stop calling them illegal. The decision yesterday by the Trump administration on DACA was the correct one. It will force Congress to do their job, something that they have been remiss to do for the past twenty or so years, ever since the increase of money in politics makes them unresponsive to the needs of the people and country. Hopefully the days of the President ruling by edict are over, because its increasing use has gotten us to the point where we find ourselves today. Congress goes to Washington to do nothing, but draw their cushy pay and even cushier healthcare and retirement.

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  2. I shall warrant, so long as the so-called 'Freedom Caucus' exists no member of the House of Representatives, no matter how competitive their district, need take a stand, aka do their job. If questioned each one can respond that the FC will obstruct whatever legislation is mentioned so there's no point in trying.

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  3. Why is that Mr Sweeney? According to Wikipedia, there are only 31 of the 435 members of the House, who belong to the "Freedom Caucus".

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    1. Mr. Stricherz I suggest you address that question to the current Speaker of the House of Representatives. Better yet, inquire of the preceding gentleman to hold that position. The Freedom Caucus ran him out of office when he had the temerity to contemplate governing in contravention to the Hastert Rule, of ignoble memory.

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  4. If they cannot read the test how are they going to read road signage? How are they going to understand a patrolman? This is a very dumb idea.

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    1. Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada offer DL tests in
      Spanish. Things seem to be working out in those states.

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