WES Pilot Provides Alternative Credential Assessments for Syrian Refugees

Resettled refugees often face several barriers to formal recognition of their credentials, preventing them from reaching their full career potential. This is especially problematic for refugees arriving without official documentation such as a completed transcript, diploma or other proof. A World Education Services (WES) pilot in Canada has tested an “alternative assessment” methodology using available evidence of educational attainment and professional achievements when these official documents cannot be obtained. WES is a non-profit organization that evaluates and advocates for the recognition of international education qualifications.

As Canada has resettled more Syrian refugees, local institutions and employers voiced concern that these refugees, many of whom are highly-educated, would not have access to recognized credential documents for pursuing higher education or regulated professions in the future.

“Because Syria had a highly-literate population and a well-functioning education system before the war, we knew many of these refugees would be highly educated, proficient in English or French and determined to resume professional careers or pursue further study. Recognition of previous education in Syria, therefore, would become a priority for these individuals, since it is critical to this goal,” shared Denise Jillions, Associate Director of WES Global Talent Bridge, during a recent webinar about the pilot project.

WES started exploring the degree of support among academic institutions and regulatory bodies for an alternative assessment model allowing for use of non-verifiable or incomplete documents, in contrast to their standard strict document policy. They decided to move forward in testing a new service delivery model among Syrian refugees in Canada to determine the validity and potential utility of alternative assessments. WES received 337 applications for the pilot program between July 2016 and May 2017, and they were able to prepare Alternative Credential Assessments for applicants who submitted at least one piece of documentary evidence.

Preliminary Findings

78% of refugee participants surveyed after the project indicated that the Alternative Credential Assessment will be useful in taking next steps toward their education and/or career goals. About 20% of those surveyed who already have plans for using the assessment indicated they would like to pursue a new profession, with the majority of respondents reporting they would like to use their assessment to pursue higher education, return to their original profession or find a similar position suited to their level of experience and education.

About 73% of end-users, including academic institutions and employers, reported confidence in the alternative methodology for assessing credentials. Some institutions reported that they are already accepting the assessment for admission to colleges, universities and regulated professions, while other institutions are still reaching a decision on how to use it.

WES hopes to expand this pilot program to the U.S. in the future, and will report their final findings and plans when the project analysis is complete. In the meantime, check out their 2016 report, Providing Pathways for Refugees: Practical Tips for Credential Assessment, which includes six steps for credential assessment for refugees and displaced people.

Written by Carrie Thiele.

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Free Higher Webinar: Job Development Strategies for Syrian Clients

6.30 webinarPlease join us Thursday, June 30th at 3:30 pm EST for a free webinar, Job Development Strategies for Syrian Clients.

Learn about emerging job development strategies that have been effective for Syrian clients.  Hear how your peers provide employment services that are client-centered and results-oriented.

Panelists will discuss unique barriers to employment faced by Syrian clients, as well as the unique skills they bring with them to the U.S.  Whether it’s your first day or you’re a seasoned job developer, you won’t want to miss this opportunity!

Register for the webinar here.

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Religious Observance and Employment: Headscarves

Headscarf Employment Barriers @ higheradvantage.orgThrowback Thursday: a classic Higher blog post about a fundamental of our work.

Addressing religious beliefs that present barriers to employment is tricky.  Religious expression is personal and individual.

Finding the right balance between addressing potential barriers to employment and respecting religious freedom can feel uncomfortable, especially when speaking to someone with different beliefs than your own.

Click here to read a great TedTalk explanation of how headscarfs have become the symbol of a stereotype and the diverse motivations Muslim women feel for making their own choice about how to dress.  It will definitely help you understand, empathize and feel more comfortable talking to clients about this.

3 Talking Points You Can Use

Here are three practical talking points that will help you address barriers to employment around headscarfs in the workplace:

1. Women will not be forced to work with their heads uncovered or dressed in other ways that go against their beliefs.  Discrimination based on religion, nationality, gender or ethnic origin (among others) is illegal.

Click here to read the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities.

2. There are many legitimate reasons for employer concern that go beyond discrimination.  We can help address those.  Often, concerns are related to hygeine and safety because loose clothing and flowing scarves can get caught in equipment or dangle into food or cleaning chemicals. Safety laws protect workers and customers.  Employers are required by law to follow them.

3.  Shorter, more tailored headscarfs, often in colors matching uniforms are widely available.  You can work with employers to provide examples and even find online sources to order them.  This goes for uniform options like loose pants, long skirts or modesty aprons, too.

One Employer’s Experience and Solution

Employers need to ensure that all employees are treated fairly. If some are given special privileges to dress differently, others might see it as discrimination against them. Here’s an example of how one employer addressed the issue with Muslim employees and their colleagues:

When a hotel partner provided loose uniform pants, longer, more modest tops and matching headscarfs for Muslim women housekeepers, some of their non-Muslim colleagues complained. Previous requests for permission to wear pants, bandanas or baseball caps had been denied.  It didn’t seem fair that some colleagues received special privileges. The hotel invited an Employment Specialist (also a Muslim) to speak at a staff meeting about the basic tenets of Islam around women and clothing. They also requested help to identify a source of specialty uniforms.  We were able to ask another hotel partner to share their previous experience and solutions with the HR department. In the end, the hotel opened the option to wear uniform pants for all women housekeepers but continued to forbid any kind of head covering except for religious purposes.

(A great conversation with Church World Service colleagues motivated a new occasional series of posts to help address common issues we face around religious observance and U.S. workplace norms. Please get in touch to request topics or volunteer to contribute a guest post about some aspect of the topic, that will cover a number of religions, not just Islam.  Comment on this post or send email to information@higheradvantage.org and stay tuned for more.) 


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Friday Feature: George and Amal Clooney Talk to Syrian Refugees

Any resource that deepens our knowledge about the Syrian refugee experience is valuable, especially when it raises positive public awareness.  And George Clooney!  Ok, and Amal, too.

(On occasional Fridays, we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)

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Friday Feature: Syrian Refugees Parts 1 and 2: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

samanthaTwo recent episodes of TBS’s Full Frontal with Samanta Bee are filmed in Jordan and New Jersey.  You can see refugee camps, urban refugee life and overseas pre-departure cultural orientation classes.  You’ll also see that the Syrians in these videos have kept their sense of humor despite what they’re going through.

Maybe you won’t want to share these with employers, as is the stated purpose of Friday Features. You’ll hear extreme sarcasm, cursing and politically-incorrect humor targeting many elected officials and hopefuls. They’re timely and hilarious, though.

Syrian Refugees Part 1: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS

Syrian Refugees part 2: Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS

(On occasional Fridays, we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)


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What’s it Like to Resettle Syrians? (A Higher video exclusive)

Learn about the Syrian refugee employment experience of Church World Service in Jersey City, NJ.  Thanks to Mahmoud Mahmoud, Office Director, who shared his experience during Higher’s Second Annual Refugee Employment Workshop in Omaha last November.  Hear his take on skilled trades, women in the workplace and more.

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Help Lush Support Refugee Welcome

 Shop. Support refugee welcome. Target a new employment partner!

photo 1

Lush store window welcoming refugees in Arabic and English.

Until February 28, UK-based cosmetics company Lush is advocating for welcoming refugees.  Lush store windows and in-store displays feature welcome messages in Arabic and English and include note cards for customers to write their own welcoming messages for refugees.

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 7.19.30 PM

The company was inspired to launch the campaign after the U.S. and Canada announced plans last year to welcome refugees fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria. Canada vowed in November to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in the country by the end of February, while the U.S. pledged last September to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of September 2016.

“When we look back 10, 15 or 20 years [from now] on this crisis, we’ll know that we took the right action, that we stood to welcome [them], and that we’re on the right side of history,” says Coleen Pickard, who is responsible for researching and launching Lush’s ethical campaigns, in an article in huffingtonpost.com.

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Lush staff, like those in my favorite Baltimore store, are enthusiastic and well-informed about refugees, making them the perfect job development target right now!

Move Lush to the top of your job development target list and bring the resumes of qualified customer service candidates to their retail stores. Staff in the stores are enthusiastic and well-informed about the cause.  Now’s the time to discuss hiring opportunities!

Consider using this amazing example of employer advocacy to encourage other employment partners to promote refugee welcome, as well.  Click here to read how to get your own Refugees Welcome window stickers from burlsesquedesign.com to make it easy for employment partners to speak up, too.


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Refugee Employment in the News

Photo credit: Pima County Public Library

I couldn’t resist keeping up with blog content over the holidays. In case you aren’t such a huge refugee employment geek, here are three stories you may have missed about refugees living and working in Tuscon, the Bronx and Lancaster, PA.

Career Ladders and Benefits of Refugee Experience in Tuscon

My experience as a refugee helped me learn how to look for all of the resources and services available here in Tucson…I provided them with information they needed until they got a job. Because I knew what it was like to start your life from zero. Bushra Faesel

Gyan Gurung Office in Times Square Suzanne DeChillonytimes

Photo Credit: Suzanne DeChillo, NYTimes

Commuting to an Office Job in Times Square

A photo essay about “the largest Bhutanese enclave” in the Bronx and Gayat Gurung’s commute to Times Square.

Starter Job in Lancaster, PA

Farhan Al Qadri, who recently arrived from Syria with most of his family, already has a $10.50/hr starter job in an egg processing plant and dreams of buying a house.

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Demographic Research about Islam and Muslims

Arabic calligraphy is so beautiful. Can anyone tell me what this says?

Click here to read data about Muslims and Islam in the U.S. and around the world from the Pew Reserach Center. No need to restate all of the reasons why you will find this useful.


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Friday Feature: Humans of New York

humansHumans of New York is featuring Syrian refugee pictures and stories in their own words on their daily blog.  Welcome to this future employment client in North Carolina from the December 6 post! .

Check them out. You can also find them on Facebook.  Share them to help quiet unfounded fears about resettling Syrians.

“I learned last Thursday that I’m going to a state called North Carolina. I’m very nervous. I know nothing about it. More than anything, I want to finish my education. But mostly I hope that whatever is waiting for me there is better than what I’ve gone through.”

(On occasional Fridays, we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)

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