Holiday Gift Guide – Any Recommendations?

Do you know of any businesses or products that should be featured in Higher’s annual holiday gift guide?  We have a great list started for this year’s guide, but it can always be better!  

Stay tuned for our annual holiday gift guide blog post. We’ll put all of your recommendations into one post to make your holiday shopping as easy as possible.  

Please submit your recommendations by commenting below or by contacting us.

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Upcoming Learning Opportunities

Friday, October 7, 2016 – American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) Conference

What: This Friday, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) will hold their second conference, Integrating Migrants into the Workforce.  Bringing together nonprofit, educational, corporate, and federal and local government actors from the United States and Germany, this conference will highlight both countries’ strengths of educating the workforce (Germany) and integrating newcomers into society (United States). To learn more about this event, visit the AICGS website.

Where: Washington, DC

When: Friday, October 7, 2016 from 8:30 am – 2:30 pm (EST)

How: Register to attend here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 – Free Webinar: Job-Ready, Set, Go! Connecting Immigrant and Refugee Youth to Employment

What: Cities of Migration is hosting a free webinar to explore enterprising ideas from Stockholm and Paris that are connecting talented young people to jobs while helping businesses tap the diversity advantage.

Where: Online – learn more about this event here.

When: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 10 am (EST)

How: Register to attend here.

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Workforce Resource: On-the-Job Training

On the Job TrainingWelcome to the third post in our series featuring some of the tools, resources and programs available in the mainstream workforce system, shaped by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and delivered through the national network of American Job Centers serving all U.S. job seekers.

It’s a complex, resource-rich system underutilized in refugee employment services. Higher is determined to change that so our clients benefit from new opportunities and employment services.

We’ll do the research you don’t have time for amidst managing client caseloads and employer relationships. You can focus on using highlighted resources to help your clients succeed in the U.S. workforce.

In our first two posts we highlighted online tools that you can utilize in your job counseling and job development efforts. In the next few posts we want to shift to highlighting programs within the mainstream workforce system that can help your clients break into career fields that they are interested in.

Breaking into a Career through On-the-job Training

Breaking into one’s field of choice can be a challenge, even for native-born Americans. On-the-job Training (OJT) is funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and is one strategy for obtaining or updating skills and securing employment.

OJT is a win-win situation in which the OJT participant receives training and employment and the employer is reimbursed for the training costs (usually calculated at half the pay rate for the agreed-upon training period- although under the new WIOA legislation states can choose to increase employer reimbursement up to 75%).

OJT & Refugees

For refugees, OJT can be a strategic way to either re-enter one’s former industry or gain new skills that will put them on a stable career path in the US.

Because OJT is a comprehensive skills training program, it will be most useful for refugees with higher levels of English and literacy. Some programs, however, have found success placing LEP clients in OJT placements when there is a strong relationship between the employer and the refugee employment program in which they work as a team to make sure the OJT training is successful.

From the research Higher has done so far, refugees with backgrounds in “blue-collar” industries (e.g. construction, manufacturing) seem to be a particularly good fit for OJT, because of the experience they bring to the table, and because the federal reimbursement opportunity is attractive to small and medium sized business in these fields.

That being said, there have also been successful OJT placements with both high skilled refugees with more professional backgrounds and low-skilled refugees with little to no work background (see examples below).

Places Where it’s Worked

OmahaOmaha, NE:

Partnership: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (Omaha) with WIOA Contractor Goodwill Industries of Omaha, NE

Population: Afghan SIVs

Industry: Construction


“With [WIOA/OJT] dollars and Lutheran Family Service’s reputation and connection to the community, we’re able to put together a package that speaks to a hiring manager or organization…and it’s quick—participants are getting enrolled in our program and within 3 or 4 weeks they’re working. We use our dollars to pay for tools, steel toed boots—whatever they need to be successful on the job, as well as paying money towards the employer for hiring through our program” –Justin Dougherty, (former) Director of Workforce Services, Goodwill Industries, Inc., Omaha, NE

Orlando__Lake_Eola_1Orlando, FL:

Partnership: Catholic Charities, Orlando, FL and local employers (Catholic Charities operates the OJT program in house using WIOA funds)

Populations: Cubans, Haitians, and Iraqis

Industries: Dentistry (Dental Assistant), Childcare (Assistant Teacher), Logistics/Warehouse, Hospitality (Maintenance Technicians and Front Desk), Food Processing

“OJT is a good option because it provides employment that is higher paying than most entry level positions, gives some clients an opportunity to continue in their field, and gives others a great ‘stepping stone’ job.” –Daisy Clemente, Employment Services Coordinator, Catholic Charities, Orlando, FL

Salt Lake CitySalt Lake City, UT:

Partnership: IRC, Salt Lake City, UT with Utah Department of Workforce Services Office

Populations: Sudanese, Burmese, Iraqi

Industries: Sewing, Construction/remodeling, Glass recycling


“We keep OJT in our back pocket as an incentive for employers who are a little hesitant [to hire refugees].” –Nolan LaBarge, Employment Specialist, IRC, Salt Lake City, Utah

Tips for Success

In talking to these 3 sites, some common themes emerged in terms of what made their OJT efforts successful:

  • Commit to learning the system: If you don’t already have someone on staff who has a background in mainstream workforce development, identify someone who can commit the time to learning the process and be the liaison between your office and the American Job Center (AJC). Additionally, look for allies within the mainstream system who are excited about your work and can give you an insider’s perspective on how to navigate the system.
  • Strong job development makes strong OJT placements: Often times it’s the employers you already have strong relationships with who will be most interested in placing your clients in OJT. You can also use OJT as a selling point when approaching new employers. Either way, you can put the opportunity on their radar and if they’re interested, you can can make the connection to the AJC to continue the process.
  • Provide good marketing materials for employers: In the same way that you provide employers good information about refugees, consider also leaving them with a nice brochure about OJT. Give them something to think about, and follow up with them shortly afterwards.
  • Offer employers additional support (coordinating interpretation, etc.): Let them know that you not only can provide them with strong candidates, but you are available to provide reasonable support to them to help with some of the challenges that come along with hiring refugees.
  • Make the right match: Always remember to take your clients past experience and skills into account when recommending them for OJT. While OJT may at times provide an opportunity for someone to learn completely new skills, the OJT program is primarily designed to be a skills upgrade program, and trainees are expected to begin contributing as productive workers on day one. The refugee programs that have found success with OJT have done so largely because they capitalized on skills their clients already had.

Getting Started & Learning More

If OJT is new for you, the best place to get started would be to contact your local American Job Center (AJC). Click here to find an AJC near you.

Once you identify the OJT resources and process in your community, you can begin marketing the program to employers that you work with.

The Employment Training Administration (ETA) is in the process of updating its’ OJT Toolkit which will be made available soon on the new Workforce GPS website, but in the meantime click here to access a recent webinar entitled “Strategies for Implementing OJT Simply and Effectively” as well as an OJT Training Brief and Resource Guide by the same name (you can find it in the left hand column called “Related Resources”).

Coming Soon…

Also, keep your eyes out in the next month or so for the next edition of our Workforce Collaboration Case Study Series, which will take a deeper look at the OJT partnership (highlighted briefly in this post) between Lutheran Family Services and Goodwill Industries in Omaha, NE.

Have You Placed Clients in OJT?

It’s impossible for us to know everything that everyone is doing out there. If you’ve placed clients in OJT, please let us know so that we can learn from your experiences as we continue to look at this strategy for refugee employment! Send us an email at


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6 Ways Employer Partnerships Help Raise the Match

money-handshake_MCS-770x770Here are six ways employer partners can help raise the match for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Voluntary Agency Matching Grant (MG) Program.  Even if you aren’t involved in the MG program, all of these employer contributions to our work help clients succeed.  Don’t forget to thank them!

1. Furnishing new arrival residences – When companies upgrade equipment and furnishings, they often offer it to their agency partners. When donated items can be used to stock apartments for new arrivals, it can count towards the match. For example, hotels replace televisions, lamps, furniture and linens that are still in good condition. All kinds of businesses upgrade office furniture and even computer equipment.

2. Work Uniforms and Equipment – Employers often provide or reimburse the cost of work shoes, uniforms, safety equipment or some types of tools.  HIAS MG Program Manager Myat Lyn confirms that these items can count toward the match. (I can’t believe I never thought of this before. So many pairs of work shoes left uncounted.)

3. Participation in training opportunities for MG clients – Mock interviews. Housekeeping training presentations.  Speaking at Cultural Orientation.  All valuable volunteer time you can count towards a match when MG clients benefit.

4. Group volunteer activities – Many employers seek out opportunities to volunteer as team building exercises or demonstrations of corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Benifitting from that generosity builds relationshps, nets you valuable free labor and can count towards your match.

5. Board or Committee service – Having the employer perspective in your agency leadership structures is good for everyone.  And the time they contribute?  Match.

6. Donation of facilities, food, drink or, of course, cash – Don’t be afraid to ask for donations for refugee day events, gift cards to support client emergency funds or donated space to hold a graduation celebration for a short term training program. Employer partners value the work we do.

Share additional ways that employer partner contributions count toward your match by commenting on this post or by email at

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Insights and Leads from Omaha Employer Panel

Refugee WorkingOne of the highlights of our Second Annual Refugee Employment Workshop was the opportunity to hear from a diverse panel of employers, including some who work all over the country.

Each employer representative shared the story of how they began working with refugees, what they appreciate most about working with refugees, and also how they have handled challenges related to culture, language, and literacy. Employers included:

Set aside some time to watch the panel, and add White Lodging, Men’s Wearhouse, and Salon Centric to your employer target list.

  • White Lodgings already partners with refugee employment teams in Indianapolis and Austin.  They also work in the following States:  CO, UT, CA, NE, AZ, TN, VA, FL, OH, IL, MI, KY, IN, TX and WI.  Click here for a list of specific properties and locations.
  • Men’s Wearhouse offers in-house custom tailoring services in all of their retail locations.  They are excited about expanding their Omaha partnership to other locations. That’s a great opportunity to match a marketable skill to a great job across the country.  Click here for a store locator and here for general warehouse and tailoring opportunities.
  • Salon Centric has retail locations all over the country, and has current job openings for warehouse workers in Grand Rapids, MI, Manchester, PA (Harrisburg/Lancaster area), Santa Clarita, CA and Portland, OR.





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Employer Outreach Inspires AND Delivers Results

IRC two

Rosemary Woren, Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, EAC member, and a future refugee employer


I have long been skeptical about the cost benefit of Employer Advisory Councils and Outreach Events.  As a Job Developer, they always seems like a ton of work for intangible results.

After an opportunity to see things from the other side – as a member of IRC Baltimore’s Employer Advisory Council (EAC) – I’ve changed my mind. Engaging employers to lead expansion of your job development efforts is a win-win.

Here’s our success story.

We (my fellow EAC members and the IRC staff team) organized and hosted an inspiring, impactful and fun employer happy hour in Baltimore last week.

22 new potential employers accepted our invitations to join us. Current employer partners recruited the guest list and then pitched the value of hiring refugees from the peer perspective. Powerful!

IRC three

Juan Williams, Baltimore Harbor Hotel GM, and another future refugee employer

The Baltimore Harbor Hotel contributed the venue, tasty snacks that never ran out and brought on additional staff to make the event run smoothly. The hotel hires and promotes refugees, believes in the win-win and puts their resources behind their commitment.

EAC members contributed a ton of time and planning energy AND money to help sponsor a two hour open bar to create a festive networking atmosphere.

IRC five

IRC staff sharing enthusiasm, knowledge and energy.

The entire IRC Baltimore staff pitched in and showed up.  Everyone – from the Executive Director to a team of interns and volunteers.  This degree of organizational commitment helped make the event a success.

We planned for approx. six months, invited more than 125 employers and will follow-up with attendees and everyone who couldn’t make it, as well.  We’re already thinking about what’s next even before our June Quarterly meeting.

What I Learned and How it Re-inspires Me for Our Work

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to be several steps removed from helping refugees – the heart of what inspires us all. I believe Higher’s work is important. Supporting all of you makes a difference in the quality of services refugees can access.  I hope it also helps keep all of you inspired, sane and equipped with helpful resources.

Being able to stay involved in the work of a local resettlement agency has given me fresh motivation for our work. I’ve learned two really important things from serving on IRC Baltimore’s Employer Advisory Council.

The first is the power of inspiration.  Offering employer partners a chance to deepen and act on their commitment to refugees is powerful and rewarding for everyone involved.

The second is that they’ll get more out of it than they realize.  My fellow EAC members are helping me outside of our work with the IRC and asking me for help, too.

Oh, one more thing.  It was – and is – so much fun.

Give these strategies a try in your work. And get in touch if you want tips from a proud Employer Advisory Council member!



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