The ‘GTRI Job Fair’ Connects Michigan’s Talent Pipeline

By Steve Tobocman, Executive Director of Global Detroit, and Dennis Beste, Program Director, Global Talent Retention Initiative (GTRI)

Andrea Zammit believes that hiring international students fosters diversity that will improve the
designs and work product of Gresham Smith, one of the nation’s leading architecture,
engineering, design and consulting firm with $328 million in annual gross revenue and 26
offices across the United States. A graduate of Lawrence Tech with over 20 years of experience
in the architecture and design industry, Zammit, a senior project manager, notes that
international students possess comparable education to domestic students, but bring global
experience that can expand Gresham Smith’s perspectives.


The supply of international student talent in Michigan, especially in hard-to-fill STEM talent
positions, is robust. With over 33,000 students studying in Michigan who contribute $1.25
billion in annual spending to the state economy, Michigan is home to the 9 th largest
international student population in the U.S. These students predominate the STEM fields,
comprising over 70 percent of the graduate students in computer science, software
development and electrical engineering fields and around 50 percent of most other STEM
disciplines.


The Global Talent Retention Initiative of Global Detroit is the first international student
retention program in the country to launch outside of a university to connect this talent pool to
local employers to help fill unmet talent needs. With more than a decade of experience, GTRI
has worked with dozens of Michigan colleges and universities and scores of Michigan
employers to connect the talent pipeline. In fact, from 2004-2016 over 45,000 international
students found their way into the Michigan workforce by working on the Optional Practical
Training (OPT) portion of their student visa and, in fact, the annual number of international
students hired by Michigan employers grew over 300 percent during this period.


STEM students are entitled to work on OPT for up to three years before an employer would
need to hire an immigration attorney or file any visas. Hiring an international student on OPT
requires no immigration paperwork on behalf of an employer unless that employer seeks to
retain the employee beyond the OPT. Non-STEM majors are entitled to only one year of OPT.
There are a myriad of pathways employers can consider to retain international student hires
long-term.


In addition to the diversity benefits and simply finding employees with specialized skills and
knowledge in critical STEM fields, international student employees are praise for their loyalty
and high retention rates. International students often come to study in Michigan from “the
other side of the world,” and have already demonstrated an ability and eagerness to move
outside of their comfort zone and achieve in a new environment. International students bring a
global perspective and the insights of other cultures.


In November 2023, Global Detroit hosted a job fair for some 280 international students. About
80% of the students were graduate students and in STEM programs with engineering, computer sciences, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing and robotics as the most common
fields of study. Global Detroit is releasing this new video about the job fair, which introduces
our partners to some of the international students looking to work in Michigan, as well as some
of the employers who attend our job fairs.


The GTRI Job Fair is one way in which employers seeking to fill unmet talent needs work with
Global Detroit to tap into the international student talent pipeline. Other employers meet one-
on-one with our staff to discuss their needs, answer their questions and determine if hiring
international student talent is a solution for their company. Some employers submit job
postings for hard-to-fill positions for which they are prepared to hire an international student
and work with Global Detroit to help identify qualified applicants. And some employers attend
a regularly-held Employer 101 event in which the mechanics for hiring international students is
discussed with qualified attorneys to help discuss visa solutions that employers can pursue to
retain international students after their OPT is exhausted.


Global Detroit will be hosting a Global STEM Talent Fair on May 3, 2024. The job fair will focus
on the engineering, computer science, IT and other academic disciplines important to the
region’s mobility industry. To find out more, you can begin your journey by emailing Dennis
Beste, GTRI Program Director at dennis@globaldetroitmi.org.