Group Workshops Improve Refugee Employment Outcomes

Group workshops are an effective way to review information provided to a family post resettlement and to provide employment programming.  Several positive aspects can be achieved if the right atmosphere is developed.  First, participants can learn from one another as well as from the facilitator or caseworker leading the group.  Second, the organization can reinforce key concepts multiple times with several participants at once, thus increasing their likelihood of  understanding.  Third, major issues or concerns will be discovered quickly and addressed..

JFCS PittsburghIn addition, group workshops are a familiar format to most refugees, since they are used in the refugee camps to instruct refugee families before their arrival.  They can be used again once the families are here  to reinforce concepts for Cultural Orientation, Acculturation, and Job Readiness or Employment Programs.  The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) has posted resources for organizations that work with refugees, so curriculum is already available and simply needs to be tailored to a specific city and or local region.

Three distinct approaches to job readiness group workshops are used in Pittsburgh:

  1. Weekly Orientation to the Workplace, hosted by Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Pittsburgh (JF&CS)
  2. English Language Training by Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMS)
  3. The Refugee Career Mentoring Program (RCMP); a collaborative effort with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services that focuses on assisting refugees with advanced degrees and professional backgrounds.

JF&CS provides a weekly workshop for participants, reviewing topics most critical to job acquisition and retention.  Subjects covered include the job placement process, completing an application, interview skills, hygiene, safety at the workplace, and the proper way to call in sick and/or terminate employment.  All workshops are interpreted and PowerPoint presentations are translated into the primary language of the major population group to ensure understanding.

NAMS partnered with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Adult ESL School to provide Basic ESL and job readiness preparation on-site. The Job Readiness Program follows a set curriculum and was taught from an ESL/Adult Education framework. Each class is devoted to a special topic related to job readiness, with basic ‘soft skills’ such as time and attendance, embedded in the curriculum.

RCMP focuses on providing support to refugees with advanced degrees, and they work in collaboration with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Three Rivers Workforce Development Board, Vibrant Pittsburgh, ESL providers, and the refugee resettlement agencies in Pittsburgh.

RCMP links a refugee with a mentor in his/her field. Workshops focus on professional resume writing, networking, and job search that is specific to specific areas of professional expertise. This program provides clients a better understanding of the processes required to gain employment in their field. It also gives professionals in the Pittsburgh area an opportunity to give back to their community and to learn more about the refugee community.

Success Story contributed by Dawn Brubaker, Refugee Employment Coordinator, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh and Elizabeth Ringler, MPIA, Refugee Social Services, Job Developer, Northern Area Multi-Service Center

For more information on this promising practice, contact Elizabeth Ringler: elizabeth.ringler@namsc.com

Seasonal Job Lead

Seasonal Bell Ringer Jobs Build Understanding of Customer Service and US Culture of Giving

Guest Blog Contribution from Higher Peer Expert, Lorel Donaghey, Caritas of Austin

Now is the time that Salvation Army missions across the country begin to take applications for season bell ringer positions, which are full time from Thanksgiving weekend until December 24.  In Austin, we placed 6 refugees as bell ringers last year and hope to place more this year.  The Salvation Army liked the chance to show people that giving is not just a Christian tradition and were happy to demonstrate greater cultural diversity.  For our clients, it offered a resume builder, $8/hour and a great learning experience.  Everyone who grew up in the US knows about Salvation Army Bell Ringers, but the concept is completely foreign to refugees.

Clients needed to be able to say basic greetings in English, keep close track of their kettle at all times, be reliable and be willing to engage people to encourage them to give.  Although they moved to different sites frequently, everyone left and returned to a central site and transportation was provided.  The purpose was to safeguard collections, but it made it much easier for our clients, as well.  We provided quite a lot of interpretation during training and during the first week or so of work and on-going to help things work well.  It was really worth it.  One of our clients won the top collections award one week and all of them got positive feedback from the store managers where they were stationed.  You can read more about the experience in the attached article that we placed in local news media last year.

 

Refugees Ring in the Holiday Spirit

December 28, 2011

Hundreds of documented refugees come to Caritas of Austin each year fleeing religious and political persecution. For many, the journey to a new life in the United States is the first time leaving the small villages and rural environments where they lived. Caritas helps refugees acclimate to their new home, learn new skills and find employment.

For 10 documented refugees who found employment as bell ringers for the Salvation Army, this year marked their first holiday season in the United States.

The bell ringers are a common holiday tradition seen each year positioned in front of stores and along streets we pass daily. The custom of placing loose change into a bright red kettle is second nature for many. However, for refugees who have never experienced Christmas in the United States, this concept is brand new.

The opportunity to work as bell ringers would provide much needed employment to support their families while learning some of our holiday traditions.

Before beginning their jobs at local bell ringing stations, Caritas case managers and staff from Salvation Army spent time training refugees. They learned the basic principles of the position, including how to say, “welcome,” “thank you,” and “Merry Christmas.”

Aden, a refugee from Somalia, speaks very little English and had no previous exposure to western work and culture. Before coming to the United States, he had only been on a bus twice and was never far from his village.

Aden was stationed at Macy’s at Barton Creek Mall. It was a challenge to help him navigate the store and even find a restroom. But he did it. When his case manager visited him at work, Aden grinned, shook his kettle and said in an amazed voice, “Money is coming. Bell is ringing and they are giving!”

Basra, another refugee from Somalia, arrived for her first day and when Salvation Army Lt. Frankie Zuniga came to check on her, she was dancing, ringing the bell and getting people engaged to donate. Zuniga was amazed as she helped reassure him that Caritas clients can do the job and do it successfully!

Working as bell ringers has helped Caritas clients learn how to engage customers and follow basic work expectations. After only two days of work, they were all clearly feeling more confident about their English and ability to do a valuable job. They have also learned about charitable giving and nonprofit traditions. They were skeptical at first that people would really give, but now they are seeing how it works.

It takes a team of volunteers, interns, staff and translators to help them learn and keep the jobs. The Salvation Army staff has also been very supportive. After one day, they knew that refugees could contribute as valued employees. As the holidays come to an end, the refugees can apply their valuable experience to future positions.

 

 


New ORR Technical Assistance Award

Higher was awarded a new 3-year technical assistance grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the beginning of October.   Since that time, we have been working hard to define our work plan by talking to local service providers and other key stakeholders in refugee employment.

Higher’s technical assistance for the coming year includes a stronger focus on community engagement.  This is right in line with our new approach and we are pleased to be able to work with ORR to use employment as a critical community engagement strategy.

Our three main priorities in the coming year include:

1) Develop a jobs database by developing national relationships with companies who are interested in hiring refugees

2) Pilot an employment mentoring initiative to deepen social networks for job seekers from a refugee background

3) Create online training for both refugees and service providers that build skills to be successful in the workplace, as a job seeker and job developer, respectively.

Want to be more involved in Higher’s efforts? Here are two ways you can join now!

1) Become a Peer Expert.  Higher’s peer experts regularly offer guidance on individual technical assistance needs and also are called upon to help shape Higher’s business development strategy.  Send your resume to Higher along with a brief introduction about your background in refugee employment.

2) Contribute to Higher’s Blog and Website.  We are looking for guest contributions from service providers, employers and refugees themselves about all things related to refugee employment.  Share a success story, a lesson learned, a new tool or useful resource.  Contact Higher with your contributions.

As always, let Higher know how we can help you.  We are your consultants and look forward to working together in the year ahead so that more refugees work.

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

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.

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

 

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

FREE RESOURCE! Pre-Employment Training

Higher’s July webinar on training design and delivery strategies received rave reviews from all participants with much interest in sharing existing resources geared to pre-employment classes that include multiple English levels.  One of the webinar’s guest presenters, Brittani Mcleod of Catholic Community Services of Utah, agreed to share her tested curriculum outline.  You can download the outline here.  This is a great starting point for any refugee employment service providers who are looking to create a pre-employment training that addresses the needs of job seekers with varying levels of English.  If you would like to receive the full curriculum which includes activities, vocabulary lists and picture cards, contact us.

Picture Card Example from CCS Utah Pre-Employment Curriculum

What strategies or tools are you finding helpful when preparing refugees for employment?  Let us know in the comment section.  We would be happy to feature your program on our website too!

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

 

Guest Contribution from Catholic Community Services of Salt Lake City

The story that follows highlights the reliable labor pool that Aramark’s Parks and Destinations Division has discovered in job seekers from a refugee background.  RefugeeWorks is proud of the work Catholic Community Services began several years ago that has resulted in a national recruitment strategy for a company with strong values in diversity and corporate responsiblity.  Special thanks to Jason Stout, Job Developer at Catholic Community Services for contributing this story.

 

Making Our Mark with Aramark
Jason P. Stout
Job Developer at CCS Refugee Resettlement Program of Utah

“The refugee program has been a terrific source of employees and has enhanced our diverse workforce here at Lake Powell as well as at other ARAMARK Parks & Destinations properties.
The individuals from this program have worked in some of our key hospitality positions and several have been commended for a terrific work ethic and positive attitude that is inspirational.” –Donna Gold, Regional Human Resources Director for Aramark

Our initial successes with Aramark were nothing short of serendipitous. At one location, less than a week transpired from the initial phone call to the first day of training some 400 miles away, but the prelude to this success is even more compelling.

Bruno Schwartz, the International Recruiting Manager for The Canyons Resort in Park City (the largest resort in Utah and part of the Aramark family) attended a networking roundtable with the Utah Governor’s International Trade and Diplomacy Office in early 2010. When he mentioned that he was struggling to obtain visas for international applicants (through the J-1 and H2B visa programs), Jennifer Andelin, the International & Immigration Specialist at Congressman Chaffetz’s office and local refugee advocate, suggested he consider the refugee community. Before long, 15 refugees were working as housekeepers at The Canyons and more soon followed.

Meanwhile, in Wahweap, Arizona, Aramark’s Lake Powell Resort was filled to capacity much earlier than usual due to the local filming of a Disney movie. They were in need of over 20 housekeepers, boat maintenance personnel, servers, bussers and other staff. Donna Gold, the Regional Human Resources Director for Aramark, called Bruno Schwartz (a former colleague) and was soon in contact with our job development team at CCS. Our team worked around the clock to identify, prepare, and transport 14 of our own clients to Wahweap in six days. In the following weeks we brought a dozen more clients, including a number from other refugee agencies in Salt Lake City.

We only had two job developers helping at the time, and between the two of us, we spent half a dozen weekends in Lake Powell, dealing with challenges and ensuring a smooth transition. We ensured that an exhaustive checklist was completed before and after relocation, including medical, communication, banking, nutrition, housing, permission from the Office of Refugee Resettlement for long-distance job placement, initial training and paperwork, and local volunteers to teach ESL.

That first season was a success, and in 2011 we were asked to contribute staff at another Aramark location: Mesa Verde, Colorado. The Canyons continues to hire refugees, and we also hope to return to both Lake Powell and Mesa Verde this year. As Aramark expands nationally in their refugee hiring in 2012, we are proud that our successes were an initial impetus in that chain.

As for Lake Powell Resort and Mesa Verde, the only bottleneck this year is finding enough refugees to meet the demand.