For years now, we have described labor mobility as an idea ahead of its time. What 2022 showed us clearly is that the time has come.
Labor scarcity has entered the public consciousness in a way we have never seen before – as of summer 2022, the world’s largest 30 economies had a record number of job openings. While the temptation of policymakers is typically to open doors only to highly educated migrants, the fastest growing openings by far are for workers in trade and service sectors. We have all felt the pain of these shortages in the last year – think of all the long waits at the airport, the breakdown of supply chains driving inflation because there are not enough truck drivers and port workers.
This pain goes beyond airport lines and supply chains – according to a report recently launched by friends at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), these labor shortages are costing us all $1.3 trillion per year or $3-5 billion every day. This is just the tip of the iceberg as demographic decline truly sets in; without creating opportunities for new workers to come, these daily losses will get much larger over the coming years of our lives.
For us at LaMP, in the words of da Vinci, we have spent 2022 “impressed with the urgency of doing.” We expanded our operations and our team to cover all continents, working with many of you to reach new geographies and explore new barriers to mobility. We launched several portfolios of work focusing on solutions to these barriers, with the support of new partners from the Howard Buffet Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can learn more about this work on this new website we launched in December, which offers more information on our current programming. Following on commitments we made last year, we also worked to expand the perspectives and skill sets of our team and Board, recognizing the importance of understanding and reflecting the views of a wide range of stakeholders in our work.
Here are the top takeaways from a momentous year of growth:
- The tide is turning. 2022 made labor scarcity a ‘household name,’ and we are already seeing policy and dialogue shift accordingly. In November, Canada set its highest immigration target in its history (1.45 million immigrants by 2025), and announced changes allowing workers in trade and service sectors to more easily come. Germany is exploring changes to reduce barriers for workers in these sectors, having already expanded its migration system to include all mid-skilled occupations and a number of lower-skilled occupations, and the US plans to issue the highest number of H-2B visas in history while the Secretary of Labor warned that not letting in immigrants would lead to economic ‘catastrophe.’ We’re also seeing broader recognition from the public that we need migration into a wide range of sectors – the British public, which only so recently voted to pull out of the EU due to fears over higher immigration, now favors increased recruitment of migrants with the largest positive shifts in attitudes being on low-paid sectors struggling with shortages, such as catering and construction.
- LaMP picked up huge momentum, especially in forming the right relationships and opening opportunities. In last year’s reflections our CEO Rebekah Smith asked two questions: could we be a global organization while being embedded in local contexts, and could we become a trusted advisor to all of the different types of actors we need with their very different interests? The answer this year has been a resounding (and reassuring) yes. LaMP became a known name and trusted advisor in some of the highest levels of decision-making. We have formed strong relationships with key actors we couldn’t have dreamed of a year ago, from governments to industry to donors. The sector-based approach we committed to at the end of 2021 has worked – our team has been deliberate in meeting employers where they are at, embedding ourselves in industry convenings for the care, cruise ship, and trucking sectors. We’ve found that the best way to get the trust and buy in of all stakeholders is simply to take their own interests seriously, as seriously as if they were your own, and to find a design that meets all of their goals (we call this the ‘applesauce principle’ among ourselves, but you’ll have to reach out to find out why!)
- We still struggle to turn this momentum and relationships into actual programs. If labor mobility’s time has come, what may be missing is the doing. The da Vinci quote continues: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” This year we have seen dramatically increased recognition of the need for labor mobility, but solutions lag far behind. For our part, in 2022 LaMP has generated significant interest in new solutions and expanded pathways, but so far this has only resulted in one operational program aimed at improving worker experiences – far from what is needed. 2023 will be a key moment in seeing whether we can translate interest into actual programs – we have several pilots that would create new migration opportunities in the pipeline, and a goal of moving 50,000 workers by 2025.
- We need to act quickly. LaMP’s mission is to create better job opportunities for half a billion workers from low-income countries by 2050, which would fill only half of the need from demographic decline. That’s less than 30 years to triple the number of migrant workers in the world, which leads me to two conclusions for our work moving forward:
- While we are currently taking an incrementalist approach, which is a necessary starting point, we need to be looking for big unlocks that lead to exponentially scaling migration. We are currently working on incubating new solutions – like innovative financing approaches – that would allow us to scale existing migration systems in a sustainable way. But if we are to meet this goal, we need solutions that transform the way migration works and is viewed.
- It’s time to pair technical solutions with a movement of powerful voices calling for large-scale change. Technical solutions can only ever lead to incremental change; to achieve transformative change, we need to fundamentally shift the understanding of the role of migration in our society. We have exciting plans to begin building this movement over the coming year, including an inaugural convening of powerful advocates and thought leaders to amplify the voices of workers from the Global South and are creating partnerships working towards concrete commitments for mobility pathways and solutions within the aged care sector by the G20 governments to be announced at next year’s G20 summit.
As we at LaMP think back on our work in 2022, we are reminded of a quote from Angela Davis: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” This year, the LaMP team has gotten to work every day believing that it is possible to radically transform the world, and dedicated each day to striving for that transformation. This field requires hard and arduous work, but we believe that we are beginning to see the fruits of that work, and that the next few years will bring critical leaps forward in the role mobility plays in our societies.
We are grateful to all our partners, stakeholders and supporters for all the ways they strive with us, and look forward to working on further developing these as well as new partnerships in the coming year for a more just and prosperous world where more people have the opportunity to move!