Panel: Immigrants Needed for Workforce: Learning Language a Challenge, Not a Barrier
Friday, September 29, 2023

Employers participating in a panel discussion at this week's Greater North Dakota Chamber Policy Summit said it is not only desirable, but essential, that immigrants be hired to fill jobs in the state.

The panel, moderated by Ron Ness, president of the ND Petroleum Council, discussed current opportunities for hiring immigrant workers, along with the challenges and impacts to businesses and communities. Ness said NDPC's GROW program (Global Recruitment of Oilfield Workers) has brought in 37 Ukrainians who've been trained to work in the Bakken, and expects the number will grow to 50 by mid-October.

Mike Arntson, plant manager for Cardinal Glass in Fargo, said the facility employs 361 people, about one third of whom were born in one of 35 different countries other than the United States. Many of the workers don't speak English, but Arntson said the company considers it a challenge, not a barrier.

Click here to listen to Arntson's comments.

Arntson said more people are dying in the United States than are being born, so it's important that North Dakota be prepared to embrace immigrants to address workforce needs.

Todd Schaffer, CEO of Sanford Health in Bismarck, said there are huge workforce demands in the healthcare sector because many people left the profession in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Schaffer said there are currently 2,200 openings for nurses in the state, but there are only about 550 nursing graduates each year. He said Sanford has more than 300 foreign-born employees at its facilities in Fargo and Bismarck, and is looking to double that number.

Schaffer said Sanford has an immigration staff to assist the new workers because they need assistance settling into the community.

Click here to listen to Schaffer's comments.

The 2023 ND Legislature passed a bill (SB 2142) creating the Office of Legal Immigration to "develop and implement a statewide strategy to support businesses in recruiting and retaining foreign labor." Minot Rep. Scott Louser said he didn't like use of the word "legal" because people are conditioned to hear the word "illegal." Louser said others objected to the idea of creating a government office, preferring instead to leave it to the private sector.

Click here to listen to Louser's comments.

Another panel during the policy summit included employers who've taken advantage of the GROW program. Ness said there are currently 16 companies in North Dakota that have hired workers from Ukraine. Click here to learn more about the program.

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