Population decline in cities is an acknowledged and growing problem. As cities lose indigenous populations, it is not only the demographic makeup of the loss which is important, a labour force of working age, but also the skills that a city loses. By losing some of their most mobile and skilful workers, cities’ long term economic well being can be compromised.
In order to replenish populations, many cities are opting to actively encourage immigration as a means of fueling urban growth and the results have been impressive.
Utilising diversity in the public sector: Hamburg, Germany
With many cities in Germany showing either zero growth or decline in terms of population figures, Hamburg is a city which has recognised and capitalised on the benefits offered by immigration. In an increasingly globally connected world, the ability to speak multiple languages, as well as experience communicating with other cultures is a prized asset, which enables employees to more effectively interact with clients. Consequently, in 2006, Hamburg launched a strategic marketing campaign to recruit more civil servants from immigrant backgrounds. The programme, “We are Hamburg! Won’t you join us?”, has met with great success. By 2011, new immigrants accounted for 15% of trainees for mid-level positions, compared with a figure of 5% when the campaign began.
Supporting immigrant entrepreneurs: Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona provides us with a slightly different slant on the story of how immigration can be used to fuel urban growth. Barcelona is widely recognised as one of the world’s most diverse cities, with a huge influx of migrants over the last ten years. Indeed, between 2002 and 2008, the immigrant population increased from 3.5% to 17.3% of the total city population and only 2.1% of that population are over 65.
Although the city does not specifically target the support of immigrant entrepreneurs, it is also careful to ensure that equal opportunities are given to harness their creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Barcelona Activa, the city’s development agency founded in 1986, plays a full part in this process. The agency now operates over 30 programmes for entrepreneurship, annually assisting with over 1,000 business projects and has become an international model of best practice. In addition, since 2004, all residents of Barcelona are able to take advantage of the free services offered by the city’s Glories Entrepreneurship Centre in support of their entrepreneurial endeavours. This offering is extended to immigrant entrepreneurs who are given any addition support they may require.
Utilising the talent of highly skilled immigrants: New York Metropolitan area, U.S.
In New York City, the problem is not so much attracting immigrants, but more ensuring that their skills are utilised to their fullest. A lack of local contacts, unfamiliar resumes and cultural differences can all preclude highly talented immigrants from fulfilling their potential in a new city. In the worst case scenario, this can result in underemployment in low level service industries for prolonged periods of time, which further reinforces the negative cycle.
In the New YorkMetropolitan area, the non-profit organisation, Upwardly Global, was founded with the precise purpose of overcoming immigrant employment marginalisation and skill underutilisation. Its programmes effectively educate immigrant professionals in financial services, consulting, engineering, healthcare and business how to adapt and succeed in the U.S. job market. The free programme covers a wide range of practical skills, such as interviewing skills, as well as introducing candidates to prospective employers. To date, the programme has coached jobseekers from over 94 countries and developed relationships with more than 70 prospective employers looking to capitalise on the benefits of employing from this unique talent pool.
Image: Flickr-Sue Waters