A new research study from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) outlines the barriers and identifies possible solutions to the issue of skilled refugee professional recertification. It is very much in line with our experiences as service providers helping refugee clients understand and address barriers they may face, learn about recertification options and seek pathways to reentering their profession and gaining US work experience, networks and US licensure.
We’re very excited to announce that we are gaining a talented new staff member, Lorel Donaghey. Starting July 29, she will be adding her deep expertise to our team as Higher’s Research and Communications Specialist.
Lorel Donaghey comes to us from six and a half years in Texas at the Caritas of Austin Employment Program. There, she worked as Senior Employment Specialist and Job Developer, piloting both of those positions as the Employment unit expanded from 4 to 11 staff members. She also served on the Higher Peer Advisory Network, contributing to our blog and other publications, and in online and peer exchange workshops. Previously, she worked to strengthen nonprofits internationally in training, assessment, organizational development, and field office management. Lorel has an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management, speaks Russian and Spanish, and brings a strong belief in the importance of helping refugees and other immigrant families succeed in the United States.
Lorel will primarily focus on Higher’s website, virtual trainings, and other online communications that are critical to the technical assistance we provide to front-line refugee employment professionals. Lorel’s experience on the front lines, as well as her innovative ideas on how to strengthen refugee employment services, are really going to benefit Higher and LIRS as a whole.
LIRS’ President and CEO, Linda Hartke, had a chance to ask Lorel a few questions about her new role. Here’s what she said:
What personal experiences led you to become so committed to standing with refugees?
My commitment to standing with refugees really began with my previous career in international development. When I came back to live in the United States, I wanted work that continued to engage with different cultures and had a global element. Soon, admiration for the resilience, spirit and diverse contributions refugees make here at home joined that need for a broader worldview in my every day life as a sustaining motivation to continue working with refugee resettlement programs.
What excites you most about working with Higher?
I’ve had a little crush on LIRS since participating in Higher strategic planning with Higher Director Rebecca Armstrong and LIRS Vice President for Programs and Protection Mike Mitchell, and after hearing the expertise of the employment professionals in the LIRS field network whom I’ve met at Higher events. So, I’m really thrilled to contribute in a more direct way.
But, I’m actually most excited about finding yet another way in which my life intersects with that of my great Aunt Dee, who lived across the street from my family and was 101 when she died. She married a Lutheran minister when she was in her late 30s after traveling to attend college with her sisters in a covered wagon, graduating from Columbia in the late 1800’s as one of the first women to attend and traveling to Cuba as a missionary in a steam ship from New York City. I definitely have her spirit of adventure and use the trunk she traveled with as a coffee table. I hope I have her longevity, too!
What do you most hope to achieve while in your new position?
I’ve long wanted to do more work with online content and social media, especially after blogging for Higher as I started the Job Development function at Caritas of Austin, so I’m excited for the chance to further hone those skills in my new position. Through that part of my work, I really hope I can help add the knowledge and passion of the LIRS and Refugee Employment networks to the ongoing national conversation around immigration reform and the valuable contribution made by immigrants (including refugees) throughout U.S. history.
During our last webinar (click here to view the slideshow), Donna Kapp, Training Programs Manager for
ECDC/African Community Center in Denver, shared a little bit about how she uses labor market information to inform employer outreach. Afterward, we caught up with Donna to learn a little more about the ACC’s Commercial Food Safety & Service Training Program.
Can you share any successes of the program?
CFaSST graduates are often better prepared for work in a commercial kitchen than most Americans! At the beginning of the course, CFaSST participants take a pre-test to determine their familiarity with food safety and to set a benchmark from which to measure their learning. The average pre-test score is 39%. After several weeks of learning in the classroom, field trips, special speakers and applying their learning in a commercial kitchen, every student has passed the post test. In fact, the average score on the posttest is 87% and two participants have scored 100%!
What is the program? What do refugees learn?
CFaSST, Commercial Food Safety and Service Training, is a 100 hour, highly accessible and interactive course on the rules and regulations of commercial food preparation and service in America. It includes information on the importance of food safety, the dangers of foodborne illnesses and the pathogens that cause them. Participants learn how to prevent foodborne illness by maintaining good personal hygiene, avoiding cross contamination, preparing and holding food at the correct temperatures, storing food correctly and cleaning and sanitizing in the commercial kitchen.
They also learn the basics of customer service, how to handle a knife, English vocabulary related to the commercial food industry, and the soft skills employers are looking for in their newly hired employees. Through a dynamic partnership with the University of Denver, the course is offered in the Knoebel School of Hospitality Management building on campus. CFaSST participants are able to learn course content in the classroom and then apply what they have learned in the event center kitchen.
This partnership also makes possible unique learning opportunities for both students and staff who interact with the CFaSST program on campus. Undergraduate students enrolled in the “Human Capital Management” course develop very close relationships with CFaSST participants. Each CFaSST participant is mentored by one or two university undergrads to learn more about the hospitality industry and how to find and interview for food service positions. For many, this “assignment” becomes a gateway to new friendships as CFaSST participants and university undergrads get to know each other and move forward toward the common goal of employment in the hospitality industry.
While CFaSST participants benefit a great deal from the experience, university students also learn how to interact with and train someone who may be older than they, who might not speak much English and comes from a very diverse cultural background. Students graduating from the university have described this mentoring relationship as one of their most significant learning experiences during their four years at the university.
Check out this article to learn about the program from the perspective of the students and faculty.
How many refugees have completed the program?
Since the program began in the spring of 2012, 46 adult refugees have graduated from the course with certificates of completion, safe food handler cards and their own bimetallic stemmed thermometers.
Of those that have completed the program, how many have been hired in the hospitality industry?
Since last year, 76% of those enrolled in CFaSST found employment within 90 days of completing the course. Most of those placements occurred within the first 30 days after graduation. 81% of those employed are working in food service related positions such as cook, prep cook, kitchen utility worker, dishwasher, steward and concession stand worker.
We have worked hard to build relationships with various employers in the Denver metro area. CFaSST graduates are working in many different businesses including Chili’s Restaurants, the Sheraton Hotel, Coors Field (where the Rockies, Colorado’s professional baseball team, play), the University of Denver, and many other local commercial food businesses.
What are some of the challenges of the program?
Through experience, we’ve learned that food service jobs are difficult to find right before the holidays. Consequently, we’ve reorganized the schedule so that this fall participants will complete the course and be ready for employment in mid-October rather than late November. Employment placements are high in Denver right now so it is sometimes difficult to get enough referrals from Volag staff. Fortunately, CFaSST enjoys an excellent reputation within the community and many individuals refer themselves to the program.
Do you have any advice you have for anyone that would like to start a program like this?
Training programs for adult refugees should be closely tied to the American workplace in order to prepare them for employment. That means programs should instruct in the hard and soft skills employers are looking for while building participants’ workplace English vocabulary. Look for employer partners who understand and value the opportunity such programs offer them to contribute to the training content and then hire well prepared employees.
In the classroom, instructors should not be afraid to challenge their students with difficult material while creating a positive and safe environment that encourages learning through a variety of methods and activities. CFaSST participants are always respected as mature and capable learners who, through hard work, rise to the expectations of the instructors.
To learn more about CFaSST, please contact Donna Kapp, email@example.com or 303-399-4500 x331.
Training program gives refugees work experience
Written By Jessica Opoien, Oshkosh Northwestern Media
May 23, 2013
Refugees resettling in the Oshkosh area now have an opportunity to gain work experience, English skills and job references thanks to a partnership between World Relief Fox Valley and Habitat for Humanity.
The Habitat Employment Training Program places refugees resettling through World Relief into what amounts to an unpaid internship while they look for jobs. The eight-week program puts refugees to work in the Habitat ReStore and on construction sites.
“Our main goal is to advance their communication skills, in a workplace rather than just a classroom, as well as provide them with a working reference — just kind of an initiation to the American job culture,” said Keri Ewing, Americorps VISTA volunteer coordinator with Habitat for Humanity.
Fourteen refugees participated in a pilot program, with seven completing it. Since then, five have found full-time employment. The program began as a partnership between Habitat and World Relief, a humanitarian organization that helps refugees resettle in the United States. An Oshkosh office opened in January 2012.
The collaboration expanded to include the Workforce Development Center, the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Winnebago Literacy Council, City of Oshkosh, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, ADVOCAP and the Wisconsin Works program. The program’s funding currently comes from Americorps and a Community Foundation grant.
Last year, World Relief assisted in placing 86 refugees in the Oshkosh area, most of whom were Burmese. Others hailed from Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Darfur. About three-fourths of those refugees were adults. The office expects to resettle about 100 refugees per year.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) resettlement handbook, the United States was projected to resettle 52,500 refugees from around the world in fiscal year 2011. The word “refugee” refers to people who have crossed international borders for actual or feared risk of persecution for political, religious or ethnic reasons.
When refugees flee their country, they have three options. They can stay in a resettlement camp in a second country, and return to their home when conditions have stabilized. If their country remains unstable, sometimes they can integrate into the country of asylum — an option that’s very rare. The third, and also rare, option is to resettle in a third country like the U.S.
Upon being resettled, refugees receive 30-90 days of direct assistance from organizations like World Relief, as well as language training and a short orientation. After three months, they still receive some assistance but are expected to have found a job.
However, with little to no English skills and no work experience in the U.S., finding a job is often easier said than done. That’s where employment training program comes in.
“We have people from different countries either with no work experience or work experience that is not recognized,” said Myriam Mwizerwa, office director at World Relief Fox Valley. “Anything they can do here in the U.S. and have that reference helps.”
Refugees come from a wide variety of circumstances and have a broad range of professional experiences. Some have worked as doctors and lawyers, others as carpenters. Some have worked recently and others have spent the last several years in refugee camps. The number one goal for all refugees, regardless of professional experience, is economic self-sufficiency, Mwizerwa said.
The two biggest barriers to self-sufficiency are language barriers and transportation, said Christy Hillebrand, World Relief’s employment specialist. English classes are helpful, but often, being in a work environment helps improves language skills more than learning in a classroom.
Jay Barrientes, project manager for Habitat for Humanity, works directly with refugees on the construction sites. Currently, he is working with three refugees from Myanmar: Ruata Ialrem, Sum Hran and Vum Iian, on a house on Winnebago Avenue that is expected to be finished by Aug. 6. Hran said someday he would like to have a job making furniture.
Barrientes said language is the biggest challenge, but they work through it by going slowly and using hand signals. Safety is also a major challenge, he said, adding that regulations vary significantly from country to country. Much of the skills and knowledge he passes on are things he takes for granted.
“They’re getting American job skills in an industry that many of them could probably leave here and go work in … at least they know basic measuring skills and operating power tools … and then to be able to feel more comfortable with the language and interacting with people,” Barrientes said. “These guys want to help, and I think they want to be part of our community.”
Mwizerwa and Hillebrand said World Relief is still trying to make connections with employers and find job possibilities for refugees, as well as professional mentors. Since the organization is relatively new to the area, it’s still working on making itself known. In the meantime, while refugees search for full-time employment, the Habitat program allows them to become more comfortable in the American workplace.
“The refugees are able to help out with something that’s going on in the community and give back, too,” Hillebrand said. “So it’s a win-win.”
To learn more about World Relief Fox Valley, please contact Myriam Mwizerwa, firstname.lastname@example.org or 920-891-7961.
Guest Blog Contribution from Luke Telander, Project Associate for Outreach at LIRS
Edible Yard & Garden is truly an exceptional company for its commitment to environmental responsibility and the empowerment of local refugees. Building on its mission of environmental stewardship, it strives to complement existing flora by including fruit and nut producing trees and bushes in its landscaping, which facilitates local and just food production. Urban environments are food deserts, but by smartly taking advantage of landscaping possibilities, Edible Yard & Garden is taking a step towards environmental justice and food security for everyone.
Located near Clarkston, GA with one of the largest populations of refugees in the Eastern United States, Edible Yard & Garden is also strongly committed to employing refugees at a living wage, capitalizing on the experience and knowledge many refugees bring with them from overseas. To date, Edible Yard & Garden has employed refugees from Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. “We learn so much from who we’re working with,” said co-founder Jeremy Lewis. “Many refugees, not having access to resources, have developed more sustainable practices, and have passed them down through tradition,” said co-founder Benjamin Portwood, “For us this is a big asset and very beneficial. Learning has been a two-way street.” Edible Yard and Garden is committed to figuring out ways to value what everyone, in particular the refugee population, can quite literally bring to the table.
Many refugees are particularly poised to contribute much to the discussion surrounding sustainable landscaping, having upheld many of these cultural practices for generations. When one Bhutanese farmer first visited an Edible Yard & Garden demonstration site, he was almost brought to tears, exclaiming, “This is how we do it at home. This plant helps that plant, it is so much easier this way.” With the help of their refugee employees, Edible Yard & Garden has been able to develop ecologies where edible plants complement each other and even serve as pest controls. Through their great appreciation for food practices and significant practical knowledge, the Bhutanese refugee employees have proven a valued asset to the growth of the company.
The relationship between Edible Yard & Garden and its refugee employees strives to be one of solidarity and mutual growth. The organization has been building slowly and is seeking to grow in order to be able to provide steady employment, all while seeking to foster a sense of solidarity through working the earth together. As the organization sets its sight on expansion over the next few years, I am sure refugees will continue to find empowerment and fulfillment in this outstanding company.
The owner of San Antonio, Texas-based NAPCO Precast Limited has a long-standing commitment to hiring new Americans. As a former immigrant himself from Colombia, Jamie Iragorri knows first-hand what it feels like to be forced to flee one’s home country and start again in a new nation.
Embedded in his company’s values is Iragorri’s dedication to providing employment opportunities for new immigrants, particularly those from Latin America. In February 2005 Iragorri became captivated by the circumstances and conditions that brought the Somali Bantu refugees to San Antonio. According to NAPCO’s human resource manager, Sabrina Murillo, “The situation [with Somali Bantu] touched [Iragorri] unlike any other, and he knew right away that he wanted to extend a hand to those in need.”
Acting quickly on Iragorri’s interest and compassion, NAPCO hired three Somali Bantu refugees, who were matched to jobs based on their skills and interests. One is quickly mastering dry patching—a technique that improves the cosmetic appearance of cement, another is responsible for maintenance both in and outside of the facility, and the third started out as a rigger and was quickly promoted to driving a water truck.
This was the company’s first experience with hiring refugees, and Murillo could not be prouder. In her words, “They are some of the best employees we have ever had. They show initiative and they don’t wait around for someone to tell them what to do.” This is particularly attractive to their direct supervisors, who have recognized their strong work performance by successfully advocating for a second pay increase after only eight months on the job. As Murillo notes, “All three have gained a lot of trust from their peers and supervisors, and demonstrated that they can quickly learn to do almost any task.”
Business at NAPCO is growing, and the company looks forward to hiring more refugees in the future. From Murillo’s perspective hiring the Somali Bantu “was the best decision we could have made. They are not only hard workers but they have made the company better as a whole. They have helped all of us to realize how much we have in the U.S. and that we need to be grateful for even the little things.”
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.”
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.”
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.