After attending a recent IMPRINT webinar about the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians (WCNP) recently launched Immigrant Professionals Career Pathways Program, I found myself thinking,
“That’s great. They have dedicated resources and staff to launch a whole program focused on skilled immigrants. What about all the agencies around the country who don’t necessarily have the capacity or dedicated resources to launch a targeted program?”
When reviewing what I learned in the webinar, I realized that even small organizations with limited resources have the determination to replicate much of what WCNP is doing (at least to some extent).
Consider these observations and WCNP strategies when you’re thinking about developing intentional programming for higher skilled clients:
- Start Simple: When WCNP launched this program, they didn’t “bite off more than they could chew.” Instead of trying to help skilled immigrants from every industry immediately, they decided to first focus on skilled immigrants from the healthcare industry. Now that they have gotten things off the ground, they are expanding program offerings to offer assistance to other immigrants from broader STEM fields.
- Screen Carefully and Hold Clients Accountable: WCNP carefully screened clients interested in this program, and required accepted clients to sign a contract committing to certain things. It was not just a wide open door. There was an element of competition, and there was client buy-in.
- Be Hopeful and Realistic: WCNP supports client’s long-term goals and lays out a pathway that will help them get there (Individualized Career Action Plan), but they also help clients be realistic about their current situation, in some cases helping them obtain “survival jobs” that will meet their needs in the short-term. In other cases they have hard conversations with clients if their career goals are not realistic or feasible– instead encouraging them toward appropriate alternative careers drawing on their skills.
- Consider Cohort–Based Learning: WCNP’s Immigrant Professionals Career Pathways participants are part of small cohorts (groups of learners) that are interactive and industry focused.
- Connect Clients to Mentors: WCNP strives to connect participants to career mentors who can give them inside industry information while also assisting with cultural assimilation.
- Offer Industry-Focus and Broad Professional Development: Not only does WCNP’s program give participants the information they need about their particular career, but it also provides them with opportunities to practice soft skills and learn about other professional development topics (e.g. Social Media).
- Encourage Clients to Give Back: WCNP’s program encourages participants to support the community of fellow foreign trained professionals, both in terms of supporting those in their cohort as well as being open to future volunteer mentorship opportunities.
- Respect the Knowledge and Experience of Participants: One of the values of the WCNP program is that each participant has a wealth of knowledge that can be shared for the good of the group. Participants are not just learners, they are teachers and mentors as well.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the work that we do. Perhaps a few of these strategies will be helpful as you strive to provide quality employment services to highly skilled refugees.
While additional resources are always nice, you don’t need a ton of funding to make a difference in the lives of your higher skilled clients. A bit of intentionality and a few tweaks to your program is all you need!
Daniel Wilkinson is a Philadelphia-based job developer with nearly 5 years experience serving refugee communities. He has worked for Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey in Trenton, NJ and Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, PA.