How Can Volunteers and Small Donors Support Your Career Advancement Programs?

Many programs across the country have reported seeing an increase in community and donor support over the past year. Frequently, offices ask Higher about the best ways to use new volunteers and donors to amplify their employment programs. Higher has found two ideas to make the most of volunteers and small donations.

  1. Co-sponsorship

Many agencies already have strong resettlement co-sponsorship models, however, with the decrease in new arrivals, co-sponsorship groups remain on a wait list. Some agencies replicated their model to pair co-sponsors with refugees who have been living in the U.S. for a few months and are ready to take on career advancement. Volunteer co-sponsors are great for assisting clients who are navigating career advancement and small donations can help refugees return to school, pay for re-licensing fees or exams, or even purchase a vehicle so they can increase their job search radius.

  1. Micro-lending

A small amount of money can go a long way for programs working to secure better jobs for their clients. Consider using donor money to create a small micro-lending program. Whether you begin with $5,000, $10,000 or more, the money can go a long way on a refugee’s journey towards returning to a previous career or securing a better paying occupation.

At USCRI of North Carolina, they utilize small donations to feed a small micro-lending pool of money. Clients who enroll in USCRI of NC’s Career Enhancement Opportunities, or career advancement program have access to the funding. Clients are able to borrow up to $2,000 to use towards obtaining a higher paying job and do not have to repay the loan until their new job has been secured. Like most micro-lending programs, USCRI of NC has a very high repayment rate at 98%. When clients repay the money, they know they will be helping another person on their career pathway.

Learn more about USCRI’s career advancement program here or listen to Higher’s webinar: How to Design and Measure a Successful Career Advancement Program .

Job Corps Provides Opportunities for Refugee Young Adults

Refugee young adults in the U.S. between the ages of 16 and 24 may have narrow educational and career training options due to low English language proficiency and a lack of formal education. Job Corps can offer refugee youth the opportunity to learn and live with American students, perfect English language skills, and ultimately achieve educational and employment goals. Job Corps is a free program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, available to help young people improve their livelihood and career prospects by empowering them to obtain professional jobs and become financially independent. Participants in Job Corps live on-site at one of 131 locations across the country, learning academic skills and training for a chosen career path. After students spend their morning in the classroom, they spend the afternoon learning a specific trade. Each location has different training programs based on the needs of the communities.  For example, programs might include, advanced manufacturing, construction, health care, culinary arts, or transportation.

Job Corps is a self-paced program that takes between 8 months and 2 years to complete. When participants are close to finishing the program, Job Corps provides employment support, including job coaching, resume and application assistance, and networking referrals.  These services continue for up to one year after graduation. Most students graduate with a job or enroll in college.

Job Corps and Refugees

The key to success in pairing refugee youth with Job Corps lies in creating a relationship with your local Job Corps center. For example, Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley (CSSMV) in Dayton, OH, worked with Job Corps admissions and career counselors to help create a space of welcome for refugee youth. CSSMV refugee program has been working with the Job Corps program in Dayton, OH since 2010, according to Teena Davis, Outreach and Admissions Counselor for Job Corps.

When CSSMV is advising a client on whether Dayton Job Corps would be appropriate, the two Job Corps components are considered: education and employment. Job Corps provides the educational component by assisting youth in obtaining their high school diploma or GED in addition to a trade. However, not every Job Corps site offers ESL.   In Dayton, CSSMV facilitated a partnership between Job Corps and a local English Language program.  As a result, ESL classes are now available for refugee participants.

Interested in connecting with a local Job Corps center? Ellenne Abraham, Job Corps Career Counselor, suggests that resettlement sites offer to assist with recruitment and work with their local Job Corps to find innovative low cost methods to offer ESL.  Abraham also advises resettlement sites to refer refugee community members for Job Corps center position openings. Those staff members can be ambassadors to help avoid miscommunication and cultural mishaps.  Refugee employment staff should also continue to be available to assist referred refugees when needed.

Success Story

Bior was resettled in 2016 when he was 18.  At school in the Kakuma refugee camp, Bior dreamed of becoming a scientist. After arrival in Dayton, Bior realized that in order to achieve his dream, he would need to take an indirect route. Bior’s Employment Coordinator at CSSMV spoke with him about Job Corps.  Three months later, Bior entered the high school diploma program at Job Corps and then began the Medical Assistant trade program. Bior completed his high school diploma and Medical Assistant training in a year. Today, Bior continues to reside at Dayton Job Corps: “I work at a Pharmacy after classes and I am now in college studying Aviation Technology. Job Corps provides me with everything I need and everything is free, including books and transportation.”

You can learn more about the Job Corps program by visiting their website or by reaching out to your local admissions office.

Educating Your Clients on Their Rights Regarding Workplace Harassment

What constitutes unlawful harassment?

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Harassment becomes unlawful when 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Where to file a complaint?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency to call if your clients experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. A person can file a complaint with the EEOC when their workplace becomes what is considered to be hostile. “Hostile” means intimidating, offensive, abusive and/or otherwise offensive, going beyond rudeness or casual joking. To qualify as a “hostile” workplace, conduct must be intentional, severe, recurring, and/or pervasive to the extent that it interferes with the employee’s ability to perform his or her job.

A complaint must be filed online or over the phone before meeting in person at your local EEOC office. When filing a complaint, it is always helpful if clients bring to the meeting any information or papers that will help EEOC understand their case. For example, if a client was fired because of their performance, he or she might bring in a recent performance evaluation, as well as the letter or notice stating that he or she was fired. If possible, the client may also want to bring the names and contact information of anyone who knows about the incident or ongoing harassment.

The client can bring third parties, such as family members or friends, to this meeting, and should do so especially if he or she needs language assistance. Alternatively, if the client needs special assistance during the meeting, such as a sign language or a language interpreter, let the EEOC office know ahead of time so it can make arrangements. The client can also bring a lawyer, although it is not necessary to hire a lawyer to file a charge.

Please note, an employer must have a certain number of employees to be covered by the laws enforced by the EEOC. This number varies depending on the type of employer (for example, whether the employer is a private company, a state or local government agency, a federal agency, an employment agency, or a labor union) and the kind of discrimination alleged (for example, discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information). Figuring out whether or not an employer is covered can be complicated. If you aren’t sure about whether coverage exists, you should contact your local EEOC office as soon as possible and they will make that decision. It is also important to keep in mind that, if an employer is not covered by the laws EEOC enforces, the employer still may be covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law. If it is, EEOC can refer you to the state or local agency that enforces that law.

App Based Employment: Career Counseling Strategies

As many refugees access flexible app-based employment opportunities, such as rideshare, labor, and delivery, how are you preparing clients?

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Planning

For clients interested in entering app-based or on-demand employment, it is important to offer career counseling that provides guidance as to how this intermediate path contributes or hinders their long-term career path. Uber, InstaCart, and other app-based positions may provide flexible, immediate income. However, these gigs are not necessarily sustainable in the long-term and are not appropriate for everyone. When clients inquire about this type of employment, it is important to assist them in exploring the advantages and disadvantages of each opportunity as well as other options that can support their career pathway.

Important Considerations

  • Flexibility in the schedule might allow more time for ESL, GED, or post-secondary education courses.
  • The employer may offer opportunities for employees to further their education and even helps offset some of the cost. For example, Lyft partnered with an education benefits company to provide education advancement programming, including Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, GED, vocational, and English language courses. For more information, click here.
  • All the app based employers require a strong command of the English language.
  • Rideshare apps such as Lyft and Uber or delivery apps such as Postmates and Grubhub require both a driver’s license and a car.
  • How much does the client need to make to be self-sufficient?
  • What is the actual pay per hour after expenses? How do you budget for tips?
  • As an independent contractor, what will the taxes amount to and how will they be paid?
  • Overall, do the pros outweigh the cons?

Introduction to Government Run Youth Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are structured training programs that give youth a chance to work towards a career-related qualification and are a great pathway to a higher-paid, skilled job. Apprenticeships help students gain the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a chosen industry. Youth apprenticeships prepare high school students with a combination of classroom instruction and paid on-the-job training. These apprenticeships are usually a partnership between state or local government, the local school system, and employers in the local community.

Apprenticeships offer significant advantages for youth:

  • Immersion — Entry-level workers have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the work environment for which they are preparing.
  • Academic Credit — Some apprenticeships may have direct agreements with post-secondary institutions, such as community colleges, for academic credit.
  • Cash — An apprenticeship is also paid employment. Therefore, students who need to earn a wage while learning can greatly benefit from this approach.

What Are Some of the Challenges of Youth Apprenticeships?

There are a few challenges associated with apprenticeship programs. They can be difficult to set up and may involve bureaucratic work; building a program might take years and will require strong partnerships. Industries do not always see the benefits of a youth specific apprenticeship, choosing instead to focus on adults with established work histories. Some industries, such as construction, have very volatile ebbs and flows that can make steady employment more difficult. Finally, most apprenticeships are not geared towards workers with limited English proficiency.  Advocating for refugee clients who may wish to access apprenticeships and utilizing youth programs like Job Corps, which includes on-site training and education may help to combat these challenges.

With today’s vibrant and competitive workforce, greater levels of preparation are required for young people to successfully access opportunities that pay living wages and withstand the pressures inherent in our economy. Apprenticeships may offer one solution to this challenge.

For more information on youth apprenticeships or apprenticeships in general follow:

Youth with Disabilities Entering the Workplace through Apprenticeship, Career Begins with Assessment, and the U.S. Department of Labor website for apprenticeship.

Financial Literacy Spotlight: Savings

When working entry-level jobs it can be difficult to contribute to a savings account. However, it is imperative for everyone to build up a savings safety net and therefore crucial for employment specialists to reiterate the importance of savings as a part of financial literacy training. Below are some resources to help you teach and encourage refugees to save:

“Savings” is money that is set aside for a specific purpose such as buying a home or emergency income. Cash left over in a checking account after paying bills does not necessarily count as “savings,” especially if the money is going to be used later in the same pay period. Similarly, if a client “saved” $5 at the grocery store, they have not necessarily increased their savings, but rather refrained from spending what was planned. Saving is not the absence of spending; saving is the intentional act of setting money aside for a specific goal or purpose. Many financial institutions have developed initiatives that include a curriculum covering the basics of money management with specific lessons on saving.  Here is a link to some of our favorites.

As a part of financial literacy training, encourage clients to open a savings account the same time they open their checking account.  When building a budget with a client, it is crucial to build in a line for savings, but how much should a client save each paycheck or month? The National Endowment for Education has developed several useful web-based tools, including Savings for Emergencies and Smart About Money. As clients enter employment, encourage them to put the appropriate amount of income into savings.

Incorporating savings into financial literacy and job readiness courses assists refugees with their long-term self-sufficiency and independence. Whether to buy a car or a house, or just for an unplanned emergency, learning how to save is crucial to success.

The Immigrant and Employee Rights Hotline for I-9 and E-Verify Violations

Higher is seeing an increase in offices reporting issues with new employers being extra cautious about verifying a new hire’s employment authorization. When establishing a relationship with a new employer, it is best for employment staff to accompany their clients and act as a hiring guide for both parties. It is essential to know that a client has the right to present any combination of documents listed on form I-9 and that it is illegal for an employer to solicit documents from clients beyond I-9 requirements.

If you or your clients are having trouble with the onboarding process due to documentation issues, you can contact the Immigrant and Employee Rights (IER) Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. This agency enforces the antidiscrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Immigration and Nationality Act

This federal law prohibits:

  • discrimination due to citizenship status or national origin in
    • hiring,
    • firing,
    • or recruitment;
  • unfair documentary practices during the
    • employment eligibility verification,
    • Form I-9
    • and E-Verify;
  • and retaliation or intimidation

In job readiness training, be sure to provide clients with the IER worker hotline (1-800-255-7688) and encourage self-reporting outside of resettlement services, when necessary. The hotline provides interpretation services upon request.

Want to practice your knowledge of I-9? The Employee Rights Interactive Quiz is great for staff and job readiness training!

For further questions surrounding worker’s rights, see Higher’s blog post on Worker’s Rights Review.

Understanding and Benefiting from Corporate Volunteering

Volunteers are an extremely useful resource to expand support services for refugees. They bring insight to U.S. culture and systems, access to networks for early employment opportunities and career advancement, and time and resources to support refugees. Successful volunteer engagement builds an agency’s capacity to serve clients. Traditional volunteerism engages individuals and small groups in mentoring, teaching, setting up apartments, and more! In addition, volunteers often serve as the best program advocates and donors because of their unique connection to refugee resettlement work. To broaden volunteerism, agencies may choose to engage businesses and employers in volunteer opportunities.

Corporate volunteering is when a company partners with a nonprofit to provide volunteers for the organization, often with paid time off or other incentives for their employee volunteers. Corporate volunteering can offer a lot of benefits, not only to resettlement programs, but to the companies themselves. Corporations benefit from volunteering through increased staff morale, staff team building, and being more visible in their communities. Resettlement agencies benefit by being able to tap into a group of organized fully vetted volunteers.    There are also strong links between corporate volunteering and corporate giving.

How to Use Corporate Volunteering

Corporations can provide on-site volunteers in all the traditional ways, or they could provide volunteers from a distance by doing things remotely like:

  • Serve as one-on-one ESL conversation partners with refugees over Skype
  • Provide industry specific employment strategies or insight
  • Teach job readiness classes
  • Facilitate mock interviews
  • Organize fundraisers or collection drives
  • Create “kits” of donated items for arriving refugees
  • Banks could provide free checking accounts and assist financial literacy classes on managing money and using a bank account
  • Career mentors or career visit days for refugee youth at the corporate site

Corporate volunteering is a great way to include local businesses into your organization’s mission while simultaneously providing services to your clients. Be sure to be prepared with opportunities and information on how to best work together before seeking new partnerships.

For more information on employment specific corporate volunteering, read Higher’s previous post.

A Farewell Message from Higher

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has provided technical assistance (TA) on refugee employment through funding by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) since 1997. As ORR redesigns its approach to TA provision and closes out the current TA grants (September 29, 2018), we wanted to say that it has been our privilege and our pleasure to provide services to the dynamic and passionate network of refugee employment staff.

We would like to thank the entire network for your thoughtful contributions, questions, and guest blog posts over the past 20 years. Higher was enriched each day by the talent, intelligence, and leadership exhibited by staff in the field, and we trust that this inspiration – and Higher’s legacy of excellence – will live on in communities across the country.

Higher began in 1997 as RefugeeWorks. In 2012, the Higher name was adopted as we increased our partnerships with employers in light of their vital role in ensuring the successful economic integration of newcomers. At the same time, LIRS created the Higher blog, dedicated to critical refugee employment topics. Today the blog has 4,591 total subscribers and our e-newsletter has 3,691.

The excellent Higher tools will remain available on the LIRS website at LIRS.org/higher. There you will find an extensive library of videos, webinars, e-learning courses, blog posts, and other resources. We hope employment staff will continue to access and use these materials. These resources will also be made available on the website of the new ORR funded TA provider.

LIRS will continue to grow our work in economic empowerment for newcomers. We are currently expanding our direct work with employers—helping them create on-site programming for refugees and immigrant staff (including ESL and financial literacy), adopt policies that promote diversity, inclusion, and employee retention, and create bridges between employers and local community resources for newcomers. In addition to our work with employers, we remain committed to finding ways to support refugee employment field staff as well as refugees themselves as they continue integrating into their communities.

Thank you for your hard work, contributions, and support. We wish you the best of luck on your onward journey to provide refugee employment services.

Sincerely,

LIRS and the Higher Team

Self-Sufficiency Series: Solutions from the Field

As part of its Self-Sufficiency Series: Solutions from the Field, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published a blog post highlighting the women’s sewing class offered by World Relief – Seattle.  To see the post and to learn more about the series, click here.