5 Fundamental Mind Shifts for Refugee Job Development


Innovations from Allen Anderson at Higher’s Second Annual Refugee Employment Workshop

“A shift can change a person, a life, the world…or it can simply change the way you move through it.”

This tagline from a Nissan advertising campaign which ran in the early 2000’s challenged consumers to shift the way they thought about the world, and imagine all kinds of new possibilities.

Allen Anderson, international job development expert and President of DTG-EMP, gave a similar challenge at Higher’s Second Annual Refugee Employment Workshop. Drawing from his 25+ years of experience with social service employment programs as well as his work to help refugee employment programs in Colorado and Nebraska (See this past Higher post), Allen shared five important shifts that lead to improved employment outcomes:

shift to strategy


From personality to strategy: Social service agencies often rely too heavily on dynamic personalities who seem to have the “magic” touch with employers rather than training a diverse staff around strategies and techniques that work. Personality can make for successful job development, but you can’t always hire for personality. No personality can connect with every employer.

Focusing on proven strategies and building a well-rounded and competent team will prove more sustainable and more successful over time.

shift to share


From placement numbers to market share: Market share is the number of employers in your service area who regularly hire your clients and view you as a reliable source for dependable employees. The shift is to set higher expectations for yourself beyond hitting your numbers.

While you may be able to meet your monthly goals by placing everyone in a few large employers (think housekeeping, warehouse assembly lines, or chicken processing), you risk becoming too dependent on a small number of employers and you will severely limit the options for higher skilled clients.

Shoot to cultivate relationships with 25 employers who regularly hire from you. You’ll hit your numbers and you’ll have a variety of job options for clients of all skill-levels.

shift to employer


From getting jobs for clients to getting employers to hire them: It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that you think about your clients less, but shifting your focus to the needs of employers in your region rather than the limitations of your clients preferences will go a long way in helping you increase your “market share.”

Taking this approach will open up all kinds of possibilities that you never considered before, and having more job opportunities will actually increase the likelihood that you will be able to connect your clients to jobs they are happy with.

shift to duties


From multiple hats to separation of duties: Employment service providers have diverse responsibilities. Job readiness, job counseling, job development and job placement are all important and require different skill sets. When possible, creating separate space for job development specialization is critical.

Josh Pacheco, Employment Supervisor at Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains (LFSRM) in Colorado, says that making this shift – and implementing policies and processes to support it – has been the strongest success factor in their adaptation of this new approach.

shift to tracks


From one size fits all to tracks for different skill levels: Different clients require different strategies. Our network puts a high value on client empowerment, but we aren’t always consistently successful at creating different tracks for higher skilled clients or opportunities for job upgrades.

It’s important to utilize job readiness and job counseling to empower higher skilled clients who may have the skills to place themselves (or at least participate in the process). Employment staff can then dedicate more time to the implementation of strong job development and sales tactics that prove to employers that clients with more significant barriers have the baseline skills necessary to do the job.

Over the course of the next year, Higher will be helping those who attended the optional day at our Annual Refugee Employment Workshop put what they learned to work in their own programs. Together, we will begin implementing, testing and tweaking these strategies. Stay tuned to follow how your peers are adapting these new techniques and how Higher will offer expanded access to what’s working in our network.





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