Local business leaders weighed in on the hot-button issue of immigration during the recent Forum for Ethics in the Workplace’s Quarterly Ethics Breakfast at DeSales University. Don Cunningham (above), president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, spoke about New Workers, New Citizens: Ethical issues & economic concerns in a new round of immigrant assimilation.
“The single biggest issue in the realm of economic growth is workforce,” Cunningham said. “We are facing, believe it or not, a crisis across the country in a shortage of workers with the skills needed for where industry and technology has evolved.”
The former Bethlehem mayor and Lehigh County executive pointed to several companies that had looked to set up shop in the Lehigh Valley but eventually went elsewhere because of concerns about whether the region could meet their workforce needs.
Cunningham told the crowd it’s not just a local problem but a national one as well. “Qualified workers are the key to growth. Skills development is the key to upward mobility in America. And mobility is the key to opportunity. The question for all of us to think about is where will the workforce come from.”
Cunningham also touched on several other hot topics, including whether businesses and the federal government should encourage or even offer relocation benefits for blue-collar workers. “Is migration within the country a realistic national economic policy or should the country engage in opening up limited, structured immigration that maybe is tied to skills or something like that? Unfortunately, I don't see a national debate going on around that level.”
Cunningham also showed support for another idea, brought up by an audience member, which would forge partnerships between companies and local universities. “We are ripe for developing skills training,” he said. “That's why we are really a job center because of the training that exists at DeSales and other places.”
Lore McFadden, assistant director of the Salesian Center, says discussing relevant topics at the quarterly meetings is essential. “The whole audience is made up of business leaders. If it doesn’t start at the top, it’s not going to trickle down to employees and colleagues.”
McFadden and Tom Cichocki, senior vice president of Morgan Stanley and president of the forum’s board, also took time out of the program to thank Father Thomas Dailey, OSFS, professor of theology and director of the Salesian Center, who is leaving DeSales after nearly 30 years of service. “This Salesian Center has been around a long time and it's been a labor of love for Father Dailey,” Cichocki said. “I think Father Dailey has done a tremendous amount of work to make that happen and to make DeSales the place it is.”
The Forum for Ethics in the Workplace seeks to provide opportunities for people to come together for study, reflection, conversation, and action on ethical issues in the workplace, especially in the greater Lehigh Valley. The next ethics breakfast is scheduled for September 7, 2017.
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