An interesting KM challenge: "Brain Waste"

Monday, November 10th, 2008
In my graduate studies in knowledge management, I have been using the lens of KM to consider various issues that I hear about. Here's an article from today's L.A. Times, which I found interesting:  "About 300,000 college-educated legal immigrants in the state, and 1.3 million nationwide, are unemployed or working in low-level jobs because their credentials aren't recognized here, a study finds."

When I moved to California from Belgium at age 14, the Los Angeles Unified School district refused to recognize much of my education because there were no U.S. equivalents for the subjects I learned within my grade level. In other words, I was "too young" to learn those subjects and would simply have to learn them again. This put me in basic-level courses, even though I had successfully completed advanced courses in physics, zoology, mathematics and two foreign languages. I was willing to take exams to prove what I knew but the LAUSD system did not have provision for this at the time. It's as if my knowledge (recognized by grades, awards, and international scholarships) simply did not exist - at least as far as the Los Angeles educational system was concerned. (Fortunately I got out, and I've never allowed education to get in the way of my learning since.)

I can sympathize with what the people in this article are dealing with. They have the brains, filled with knowledge, but without the recognition, their opportunities are limited.  Here, we have a problem of knowledge resources at a time when we need all the brain power we can get. This is not a discussion of legal vs illegal immigration. This is, however, in my opinion, a very interesting KM challenge. Clearly the current situation (for all of its causes) does not maximize the knowledge worker contribution that these people can contribute to society.

I wonder what a KM centric approach would be to maximizing the value of the knowledge these people have and are willing to share?

Article: Skilled immigrants a 'brain waste' in California's workforce

Discussion/Comments (3):

An interesting KM challenge: Brain Waste

Allan Crawford Mon, 10 Nov at 9:02pm


Great question.

What I find so interesting about your question is something that I often struggle with when I’m dealing with people who’s native language is not English. When I ask a question…or look for meaningful dialog, the conversation is difficult. And it’s difficult because I don’t speak their native language. I can’t have a great conversation…because of my limitations.

I’m struck by this because of one of the first times I flew to Europe. I was sitting next to someone who was from Switzerland who spoke seven languages…but only 4 fluently. Okay so I know English – which I’m at least somewhat proficient in…and I can get by in German…but go to France, or Spain…or as I did, spend a few months in Russia, and I feel like an idiot.

So is it a KM challenge…or is it a cultural challenge? Or perhaps it’s just a challenge because we have grown up in a country where we had the luxury (or is it the curse) of needing to only understand one language and one culture?

Posted at 11/10/2008 23:04:04 by Alan Crawford

An interesting KM challenge: Brain Waste

Good points, Alan: “So is it a KM challenge…or is it a cultural challenge?” I’m sure it probably both, at least to some degree. The challenge I was trying to look at, was the KM perspective: We have a gap but can we close it?

Posted at 11/10/2008 23:07:49 by Eric Mack

An interesting KM challenge: Brain Waste

My family moved a lot when I was a kid - mostly within the US. Invariably, the new school would try to talk me (my parents) into having me repeat a grade. If that failed, I'd be moved from excelerated/honors courses to remedial-type courses where I was bored to tears. So - though the article talks about immigrants - they aren't the only ones facing this problem.

Posted at 11/11/2008 12:36:37 by Nancy Hand

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