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.