Refugees Reflect Hannaford’s Customers

An Ethiopian customer receives instruction on her new prescriptions from a fellow Amharic speaker at the pharmacy counter. A Sudanese produce specialist waves at a friend from the vegetable cart. The young Afghan cashier makes change for relatives at the checkout. At Hannaford grocery in Portland, Maine, associates increasingly reflect the city’s changing demographics. As Associate Relations Manager Shelly Williams explains, “Refugee associates represent the makeup of our community. It helps us build our business if our associates represent the community, because customers feel more comfortable.”

Although there are many reasons for Hannaford, or any company, to hire refugees, the bottom line is that the decision has to be good for the bottom line. Therefore it is important for refugee service providers to tailor their marketing strategies to businesses’ needs. Williams encourages employment specialists to be positive when approaching an employer. “Tell me what this person offers our company,” she says. Give us resources and solutions!”

In Hannaford’s case, refugee applicants are attractive because they represent Maine’s future workforce. “Hiring refugees is a responsible corporate move,” Williams explains. “Maine’s population is aging. In 10 or 20 years, the [refugees] will be holding the jobs and running the businesses.” Refugee employees at Hannaford are already advancing towards this goal according to City of Portland Employment Specialist Efrem Weldemichael. “Hannaford orients their new employees very well,” he acknowledges. “The pay is good and there is upward mobility with the company.” Former customer service associates are discovering new opportunities in the seafood, produce and pharmacy departments. Refugee youth who go off to college return to pursue opportunities in the company’s management training program. “I like to watch the growth in our employees,” notes Williams, adding that associates who stick with the company “can go as far as they choose.”

Refugees also introduce new learning opportunities for employers. For instance, when one refugee employee accidentally set off the fire alarm, Williams assumed full responsibility. “I took for granted that everyone knows what a fire alarm is; now I make sure to include it in each orientation.” Religious holidays, such as the celebration of Ramadan, are also easily accommodated with a short-term shift in schedules. Where language is a barrier, Williams recommends that providers be honest. “Be up-front. We can partner individuals with other native speakers or hire an interpreter if necessary, but we need to know in advance.”

Refugees offer tremendous benefits to Hannaford in return for employment. As Williams contends, “I think an employer who doesn’t use this population is losing out. You can’t go wrong. They are dependable, loyal, and they want to move up in the company. Refugees are truly part of the Hannaford family.”

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Large Minnesota Employer Regularly Hires Refugees

Fairview Health Services is one of the largest employers in Minnesota and a strong supporter of refugee employment. With many refugees and political asylees employed at four of their hospitals in the greater Twin Cities area, the Minnesota Council of Churches has found an employer who truly provides newcomers a promising start in America.

According to Katie Thomas, match grant coordinator for Minnesota Council of Churches, “Fairview Health Services is committed to a diverse workforce and to giving refugees an opportunity to begin careers in the U.S.” Under the leadership of a senior human resources director of diversity, Fairview manages a diversity hiring program that has benefited refugees and other candidates looking to enter the healthcare field. Impressed with their investment in their employees, both Katie and her colleague Mike Zaslofsky work hard to nurture a lasting relationship with the company.

Fairview Health Service provides refugees with more than just an entry level job; they are also committed to offering their employees opportunities for advancement. Several refugees have been promoted while employed at the hospitals. One employee began as a Nutrition Services Aide and is now doing direct patient care as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant after completing a Fairview-sponsored training program. Another client who worked as a pharmacist in Sudan was hired as a pharmacy technician. The hospital hopes to assist him in the re-certification process. The salaries are good too. Newly hired refugees referred by Katie and Mike generally make between $10.41 – $15.00 per hour with benefits.

Supervisors at all four hospitals express enthusiasm about the caliber of employees they have found with newly arrived refugees. Materials Management Supervisor Tim Henry at Fairview Southdale Hospital comments, “[Refugees] are some of the most reliable employees I have. They show initiative, want to be here and any employer would benefit from hiring them because of the attributes they bring to the job. They have a top notch work ethic.”

Employment Representative Jean Shepherd at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, agrees. “I like working with the refugees that are referred from Minnesota Council of Churches because they are eager to be of service to our patients. They have a very positive attitude and they are eager to learn. Mike and Katie send [candidates]who have the skills, as well as the legal documents. Working together is what it’s all about!”

In addition, Steve Kroeker, Director of Nutrition Services at University of Minnesota Medical Center has said, “They’re hard working people who’ve adapted well in our department. They respect others and do great work.”

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Refugees Advance at Cardone Industries

Timothy Tran, a former refugee from Vietnam, resettled in Lancaster, Pa., when he was 21. His first job in the United States was as industrial chaplain with Cardone Industries in Philadelphia, a unique position with a company that strives to create a small-family feel among its 4,200 employees. Fifteen years later, Tran is still with Cardone, where he works as staffing coordinator, welcoming other refugees to the company that welcomed him.

Since 1970 when Cardone began remanufacturing its first automotive part—at that time a windshield wiper—the company has hired as many as 800 former refugees representing 19 different nationalities. Many employees have stayed with the company several years, working their way up the corporate ladder. “The only skill you need to get a job with us is to have a good attitude. We teach you the rest,” Tran points out. One of the company’s corporate objectives is “Help people develop,” and many refugees have benefited from this goal.

Tran is just one example of an employee who has advanced within the company. A Haitian immigrant who started in the shipping department returned to the company as a benefits specialist after completing college. Another woman, originally from Cambodia, began in the packaging department and was eventually promoted to hiring manager for human resources. In her new position, she uses her personal experience to encourage newly arrived refugees.

Cardone Industries works with all four of the local voluntary agencies to hire refugees: Catholic Social Services, LIRS affiliate Lutheran Children and Family Services (LCFS), Nationality Service Center and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. As Janet Panning, resettlement director for LCFS, recognizes, “Cardone is not only a leader in their industry, but is also a leader in their commitment to their employees. Their heart for their employees, including refugees and asylees, goes far beyond traditional employer support.” Tran agrees, “We not only give jobs, we care for the whole person.”

Cardone Industries is a remanufacturer of auto parts and a three-time winner of the Automotive Service Industries Remanufacturer of the Year Award. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company also has sites in Los Angeles, Canada and Belgium.

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C&S Wholesale Grocers

Employers hear about the benefits of hiring refugees through a variety of sources: A cold call from a job developer. A speaker at a rotary meeting. A friend at church. C&S Wholesale Grocers’ introduction to the country’s refugee labor pool stemmed from a simple conversation shared during a vacation cruise.

In 2005 C&S Human Resources Recruiting Supervisor Dana Riccioni received an enthusiastic e-mail from another human resources professional in the company about a market for potential new employees. In the e-mail, Riccioni’s associate shared how she had learned about the U.S. refugee resettlement program from a fellow passenger—a Church World Service employee—while on a cruise. The conversation had prompted her to research the local resettlement agencies near C&S sites and forward their contact information to C&S staff recruiters. Taking her colleague’s tip, Riccioni, who is based in Trenton, called Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey (LSMNJ), and she discovered a pool of ambitious workers.

While LSMNJ was eager to match qualified candidates with the company’s openings, transportation was an initial barrier. The C&S locations are not accessible by public transportation. To solve this problem, the company decided to procure two vans from another C&S site, and created two new positions for drivers. For a reasonable $25 weekly fee, former refugee employees can ride to work in one of the vans. One of the drivers, Alpha Fofana, is a former refugee from Ivory Coast. Resettled in 2003 by the International Institute of New Jersey, Fofana commends the company for the opportunities they provide, “At this company everyone is so kind and willing to help you,” he says gratefully. “There are many opportunities to grow with the company. C&S is a perfect image of America because if you want to work, they help you. If you are serious about your future, you will succeed here.”

Riccioni agrees with Fofana. C&S is committed to providing advancement opportunities and promoting from within. Many employees who start in low-skill positions and move on to the more advanced positions including the company’s supervisor training program. Riccioni sees refugee workers as perfect candidates for C&S’s job upgrade opportunities. She notes, “[Refugees] come to the U.S. to work and we have the jobs to offer.”

Job Developer Vesna Smith is grateful that C&S has gone to such lengths to learn about LSMNJ’s program and hire the agency’s clients. In her words, “We really appreciate the efforts and patience of C&S. Their staff has been extremely helpful in getting our clients self-sufficient within 90 days of their arrival.” In less than a year, LSMNJ has placed more than 20 refugees at the company’s six locations in metropolitan New Jersey. C & S has also hired over fifty refugees throughout the New England area in partnership with Lutheran Social Services of West Springfield. With any luck, the company will have similar success in Staten Island, New York where another Lutheran Social Services affiliate is located.

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CabinetCraft Embraces Refugees

Bill Adams was not particularly enthusiastic about hiring refugees at Cabinetcraft, a subsidiary of John Wieland Homes, when the company opened a new production plant in North Carolina in 1999. “I don’t hide the fact that I am an old country boy from the South,” Adams admits freely from his office in Charlotte, noting that he was 15 before he first met a person who wasn’t from North Carolina. “You can guess my reaction to the idea of working with people who don’t speak English. I fought it kicking and screaming the whole way.”

Nevertheless, within just six weeks of hiring his first group of refugee employees in 1999, Adams discovered a tremendous source of industrious, skilled and dedicated workers. “They were even better than [the employees] we typically found at a temporary employment agency,” he recalls. “They walk away from a lot to be in the United States, and give everything they can in their jobs. This says a lot about their muster.”

Six years later Cabinetcraft’s workforce of 50 in Charlotte includes 36 former refugees, some of whom are rapidly approaching the top of the pay scale—$17–18 an hour. Many were forced to give up professional careers as engineers, teachers and mechanics when they fled their home countries. One employee from Liberia has a master’s degree in anthropology and recently won an award in a North Carolina poetry contest.

As Cabinetcraft continues to hire new staff many of its refugee employees have stayed at the plant since its beginning. One reason is that the company offers employees career advancement opportunities. This is attractive to Linda Campbell, an employment specialist at Catholic Social Services, who has referred clients to Adams since the plant opened. “The company invests in teaching people skills they can carry with them forever. If they are teachable, they can go anywhere [in the company].” Currently, all six floor supervisors are former refugees.

Commenting on Cabinetcraft’s recruitment strategies, Adams says that he rarely looks beyond Catholic Social Services because he knows that good employees are just a phone call away. His attitude towards refugees has changed in a relatively short time. He considers many of his employees close friends, and he has a lot of respect for them. “Like most Americans, they want to better themselves and provide for their families. Now I wouldn’t let anyone take away our [refugee] employees. They are the best workers.”

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Diversity and the Value Add to Employers

Are your agencies promoting the strengths of diversity in the workplace? Are the employers you work with a set of values and principles that recognize diversity? Below are some value adds that refugees bring to the workplace and you can promote to employers.

Customer Focus – matching internal employee diversity to population diversity can provide performance benefits which enhance awareness of consumer needs.

Business Process – recruiting diverse talent will help inject new ideas and challenge the organizational mindsets and ways of doing things that can hinder change and organizational process.

Innovation – the flexibility, creativity, and ability to innovate are enhanced by the existence of dissimilar mindsets. Constructive conflict supports “out of the box” thinking.

Learning – employers have more choice from a greater skills base, improved employee satisfaction, and reduced internal disputes, greater workplace harmony, improved retention, and more effective and fairer promotion of talent. Knowledge is retained in the business and shared more effectively.

When working with a new employer, it is wise to consider the following:

Does the employer…. (Examine the company’s mission and value statements)

  • Have a set of values and principles that recognize diversity;
  • Demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally and value diversity;
  • Conduct self-assessment to ensure sensitivity to cultural characteristics;
  • Commit to manage the “dynamics of difference;”
  • Learn about and incorporate cultural knowledge into their practices, and
  • Adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve.

If the answer is yes, then the company will most likely be a good match for your clients.

 

Cheers,

Jonathan Lucus,

Director of Higher

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No English Needed to be an Entrepreneur

As Higher begins planning for the 2013 fiscal year, I have been thinking a lot about employment programs that strengthen English and increase a refugee’s marketability in the workforce. It has been long understood that in an economy that is producing few jobs, employers have increased flexibility to pick and choose new hires that need to meet a gold standard – long U.S. work histories, willingness to work unconventional hours, and high level English ability. But what about immigrant entrepreneurs? Do they need to meet the same gold standard?

Well, according to a New York Times article I ran across, the answer may in fact be, no. For immigrants coming to the shore of America with little to no English ability, their ethnic diaspora is avenue that can lead to business success.

Among the individuals highlighted in the New York Times article is Felix Sanchez de la Vega Guzman. (Spoiler Alert) Mr. Sanchez turned a street tortilla business into a $19 million food manufacturing empire. His success can be credited to understanding his own ethnic community and how technology could help him market to his ethnic community all across the U.S. and beyond.

Yes, Mr. Sanchez is one of a relatively small number of people who have been able to succeed at this level without learning English, but he is at no means alone in this endeavor. Click here to read more about these immigrant entrepreneurs.

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Gardens Are A Place For Personal Growth

When I was living in Zimbabwe, I remember the initial trip from the airport in Harare to the tiny village where I would end up residing. It took hours to get to our designation. The roads were bad and our jeep was no better. Most of the journey there was not much to look at. A few trees here and there and the occasional passerby headed back to the city. But about two hours into the ride, an oasis was unveiled. A beautiful orange grove started to align both sides of the street and I was mesmerized by how the arid landscape transformed into a lush, green canopy. We stopped and purchased oranges from the local farmer’s roadside stand. The air smelled sweet and the oranges were delicious.

It occurred to me when I was back in the States that the farmer I met on my way that day came from the same place as many of our Zimbabwean asylees. It also occurred to me that many of them must have been farmers with amazing talents and how we (the U.S. resettlement network) must capitalize on those talents. This is why I love a recent article in the Baltimore Sun about a new IRC initiative in Baltimore centered on refugee urban gardening.

You see, farming is much more than cultivating, planting, growing, and harvesting produce. You learn a lot about yourself and your abilities. You are able to cultivate and grow relationships with others as well. Both in working together to yield a harvest and selling produce that feeds those who have come to buy it.

Interested in IRC’s urban gardening initiative, click here.

-Jonathan Lucus,

Director of Higher

 

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To Tweet or Not To Tweet…

Higher (during its RefugeeWorks days) spent a lot of time at its trainings talking about social networks and the pervading relevance of networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

I ran across an article today that implores job seekers to use Twitter to connect with employers and land a job in less time than a standard job search.

Case in point, I have been trying to gain access into a national food service company. I used LinkedIn to connect with a recruiter who, in turn, connected me with two corporate folks. Now, I have an advantage in getting the meeting I have been trying to set up for weeks!

Below are a few tips from the article:

1) Employers are looking to spend less money on recruiting new employees. Twitter has become a cost effective tool for them.

2) Competition is high for every job openining that is out there. Fifteen million people are out of work in the U.S. It is time to be creative when it comes to networking!

3) Twitter gives you a direct connection to those individuals who are in charge of finding potential talent.

4) Networking, networking, networking. Twitter is a great way to build a network of folks who can give you job leads before they are posted on websites and newspapers.

5) The bottom line is Twitter yields results. And that is what we are all looking for!

See the entire article here.

-Jonathan Lucus,

Director of Higher

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Employers Are Looking On-Line. Are You Visible?

Applying for jobs on-line can be a bit of a conundrum. Will your resume get noticed? Will there be thousands of people applying for the same position? We all wonder these questions in the age of job link websites like Monster.com and Craigslist. However, employers still use these avenues to find talented, qualified people. However, your resume will be tossed aside (virtually) if you are not thorough enough in your presentation.

Below is an article from AOL Jobs that makes the case for taking your time when submitting your application on-line and conveying why you are the right person for the position your are applying for.

http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2012/08/10/employer-says-shes-been-looking-for-a-year-cant-find-a-soul-t/

The article’s author, Claire Gordon gives (4) extremely useful tips that will help ensure an employer will look at your application:

1) Send a cover letter.

2) Explain why you want the job.

3) Mention the position you are applying for.

4) Sell your services, not your goal.

As new Americans strive to enter the workforce they need to set themselves a part from the rest of the job seekers. Being thorough with the application process and being passionate about the job they are applying for will surely help their resumes get more than a passing glance.

-Jonathan Lucus,

Director of Higher

 

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