Refugee Employment Summit in Kent, WA Increases Collaboration Among All Stakeholders

Almost 100 employers and community partners attended the first ever Refugee Employment Summit in Kent, WA in October.  Beyond the chance to connect with employers, collaboration among employment service providers and the City of Kent’s leadership role are important success factors for replicating this important strategy for job development and refugee workforce.

Kent Quote OneOrganized by The Kent Cultural Diversity initiative Group and 10 local employment service providers, the successful one day event was held at Green River Community College, Kent Station Campus with funding through the City of Kent and The Seattle Foundation.

The goal of the summit was to bridge the gap between refugee job seekers and area employers, as well as to connect all stakeholders on issues related to the city’s changing demographics, including the rapidly growing refugee and immigrant population.

By all accounts, the event was a success.  95% of respondents to a survey at the conclusion of the event reported that they were highly likely to attend or invite a colleague to a similar event were it to happen again.

Stephen Johnson, Employment Specialist at World Relief Seattle, talked to Higher about some of the early results already being noted, his advice to others about the value of collaboration and the inspiration and process behind organizing a similar event.  The rest of this article summarized quotes from his remarks and from the Summary & Report, which you can download from Higher’s website.

Kent job squad

Thanks to the World Relief Seattle Employment Team (pictured here) and the Refugee Employment Coalition (REC) for contributing so much information and expertise for this success story.

Initial Impact 

“We’ve had a fair amount of press and interest from local politicians and we’re excited to continue promoting refugee employment in our area.  Most of the companies who attended were already hiring refugees to some degree, but we have been able to establish deeper connections with many of them.“

“We’re excited to hear about several new relationships being built between companies and employment staff. Several companies volunteered to host job developers on site tours.  Some of the employers have also volunteered to assist with job skills classes and mock interviews.”

The REC had been meeting to share job opportunities, resources and skill-building.  Most members were also involved in planning the Summit.  Our coalition has continued to expand and develop, especially as a result of the summit planning process. This event has energized us as we further define our identity and undertake a strategic planning process.

The Process

“It took a lot of work.  We invited everyone to an initial meeting in April and just kept meeting over the next six months.  We probably met 5-6 times as a large group, as well as many other smaller meetings involving five different sub-committees.”

“I heard about a similar event, the Refugee and Immigrant Job Development Forum, in Bowling Green Kentucky and learned more about it through Higher.  (Read more about the Bowling Green model here.)   I contacted Leyda Becker, City of Bowling Green International Communities Liaison and Heath Ray, Job Developer with Community Action of Southern Kentucky.  During the same time period, I learned that some of our local city government representatives had been talking about a similar idea.  That’s how the process began, from my perspective.”

Highlights from the Event

Kent Mayor Suzette Cook addressed the Summit.  The moderator was Jared Othieno, a Kenya native and the human resource manager at Chesterfield Services Inc.  The keynote speaker was Rhiela Arroyo, Asst. HR Director of DoubleTree by Hilton, Seattle Airport.

Four concurrent breakout sessions were offered twice so each attendee could attend two.  The topics were 1)  Best Practices for Working with Refugee Employees; Why Employers Should Hire Refugees; Working with Refugee Employment Programs and Learning from Refugee Leaders and Ethnic Communities.

Advice to Other Employment Programs

Local government leadership is important to get broad employer participation.  “World Relief had tried to put on a similar event the year before and we only had a couple of employers attend.  Heath and Leyda both emphasized the importance of the city being the driving force behind the event.”

Collaborate with other agencies, even if it feels counter-intuitive. “Fight the urge not to work together.  It’s tempting to exist on an island without the challenges that come from collaboration, especially given the element of competition in our work.  Kent Quote TwoOur outcomes prove otherwise and the process has been just as valuable as the outcomes.”  Four resettlement agencies (IRC, World Relief Seattle, Jewish Family Services, and EMM collaborated on this event.


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