Tips from the Field: Safety Training – Safety Gear

Having an understanding of the importance of workplace safety rules and gear helps prepare refugees for work in the United States. Below are two activities, provided by network agencies, which may help you to incorporate safety training into your job readiness or ESL classes.

World Relief DuPage/Aurora

Dan Peterson, Higher Peer Advisor and Early Employment Specialist, says that World Relief DuPage/Aurora developed several lessons that includes safety as a part of their six-week job readiness training course. Each lesson is taught by an ESL teacher in the daily sessions and reinforced with a once a week workshop taught by Employment Counselors.  Dan shares one of the safety gear activities here:

  • Safety Gear Review: “We bring in lots of safety gear and have an interactive lesson where clients examine the gear, guess its use. Participants also learn what equipment might be required and supplied by various companies and which equipment is often required, but must be purchased, by the employee.” The picture of safety gear on the left shows the types of equipment that might be included in this activity.


Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

Jessica Ploen, Career Advancement Specialist from Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, says that she has incorporated safety training into Vocational and work-related ESL classes because a majority of clients will encounter it on the job and need to understand what it is and why it is important. Here is one of the safety gear activities Jessica uses:

  • Safety Gear Race: “I put clients into two groups, and they pick one person to put the safety gear on, and the group labels each piece. The team that finishes first, wearing and labeling the gear correctly, is the winner.” Clients not only practice vocabulary for safety gear in this activity, it also ensures they know how to correctly wear the gear.

Safety gear is an important aspect of safety training that may be highlighted in job readiness or ESL classes. Providing opportunities to see, wear, or touch real safety items will assist refugees in understanding how United States workplaces function.

Follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for more information on safety gear standards for various workplaces.

Look for our next blog post where we will discuss how teaching specifics on workplace safety can continue to prepare refugees for new positions that have specific regulations and rules on safety.

What are some ways that you incorporate safety training in your job readiness curriculum? Share with us at!

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U.S. Employers’ Guide to Hiring Refugees

Higher presents a guest post from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) announcing the release of an employer guide in partnership with the Tent Foundation

LIRS has produced in partnership with the Tent Foundation, the U.S. Employers’ Guide to Hiring Refugees, a manual to assist U.S. businesses that are interested in hiring refugees and have questions about the logistics and practicalities of doing so. The Guide contains essential information on a variety of topics related to refugee recruitment and employment, including:

  • An explanation of who refugees are and how they arrive in the United States
  • The benefits of hiring refugees
  • The logistics of finding and hiring refugees
  • Common barriers – and solutions – to refugees entering and maintaining employment
  • Highlight the organizations that businesses can contact if interested in bringing refugees into the workforce

Leading businesses throughout the United States have already experienced the many benefits of hiring refugees, who are authorized to work immediately upon arrival in the United States – including lower workplace attrition, increased diversity, and a strengthened brand and reputation.

In the coming weeks, the guide will continue to be updated to provide an accurate list of refugee resettlement offices that businesses can contact to connect with refugees interested in immediate employment.

We hope that our national resettlement partners will find the contents of this Guide useful for the employers in their communities who have yet to hire refugees. Sharing this guide with employers in your community could be extremely beneficial to building bridges between local agency offices and surrounding businesses.


For more information or clarity, contact The guide is also available on the Higher website.

What strategies or materials do you use when seeking new employers? Share your plan with us at!

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Interactive Games for Developing U.S. Workplace Skills

The U.S. workplace often emphasizes three skills—speed, accuracy, and organization. Refugees, as well as other applicants, need to be prepared to finish tasks quickly, yet pay attention to details and follow specific instructions. One strategy from the field, to evaluate and expand these capabilities for clients and prepare them for jobs, is to use interactive games and activities such as Legos or Tetris in job readiness classes.

In Ohio, the Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley’s (CSSMV) employment team learned of several tests, which were games, employers were using in the hiring process that fit well in job readiness classes or one-on-one skill assessments. The team decided to implement several corollary games to help build client’s confidence on skill based tests given during interviews. Introducing these games to refugees in job readiness classes is fun, and can be useful for building and evaluating job skills.  These games are accessible to a wide range of English levels. Using them in multi-level classes where pre-literate and highly skilled participants are present might optimize time and efficiency when preparing refugees for the U.S. workplace.

Perfection: the goal is to match each piece into the correctly-shaped slot within a specific time frame. This game is used with refugees preparing for work at industrial laundries, distribution centers, electronic assembly warehouses and other positions that require finger and hand agility. Perfection was introduced to the employment team by a hiring manager at a local linen supply company.


Legos: the goal is to build and match the color and shape of Legos models within a specified period of time. Legos are used as a hiring test by an Ohio company that designs and builds electronic motors which are sold internationally. Practicing Legos in job readiness classes helps employment staff to evaluate if a client was ready to move forward in applying for certain types of jobs.

“My favorite activity is a group Legos session where clients race the clock (and each other) to build small trucks, motorcycles, airplanes, etc. The directions for the Legos models are just pictures and arrows in sequential order. If you are working with clients who are non-English speakers, or may speak some English but read very little, you can still get a good measure of the skills needed for certain jobs,” said Gretchen Pfaff, Employment Coordinator at CSSMV.


Memory Match: the goal is to turn over two cards of the same picture from an array of cards. You can create your own set of memory cards including basic vocabulary for industry tools, foods and shapes, allowing clients practice of key English words at the same time. This game is used by employment staff to help build a client’s ability to concentrate, learn key words for particular jobs, and practice English.

Tetris: the goal is to rotate shapes to form continuous lines. This game is used by a particular employer that required staff to load and unload boxes off and onto trucks.

Job Ready Bingo: Job ready Bingo is used in job readiness classes to practice employment vocabulary such as documents needed to work, job cycle, and shifts. The goal is for each participant to quickly identify the called word on their game card and cover the space with a marker. This game helps to evaluate a clients’ understanding of the material taught in class, listening skills, and the ability to follow directions, and it reinforces key English vocabulary.

What games or interactive activities do you use to teach everyday U.S. workplace skills with your clients? Share with us at

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Career Pathway to Nursing in Minnesota

Employment programs can offer a variety of services to refugees in a range of ways, including career pathway opportunities. Career pathway programs are centered on moving a refugee through the steps of a career, taking into account the barriers, short term or long term goals, education requirements, and labor market projections in local areas. Career pathway programs offer assistance for refugees at different stages in their resettlement.

At Higher, we like to spotlight successful career advancement programs that can give clients access to job upgrades and provide more tailored services, like the Medical Careers Pathway (the Pathway) at the International Institute of Minnesota (IIM). The Pathway assists refugees and immigrants interested in pursuing a career in nursing or who are enrolled in nursing programs throughout the Twin Cities and Minnesota. The Pathway began with the Nursing Assistant Training (NAR) program in 1990, as a way to provide skilled workers for the growing need for certified nursing assistants in the area. Over the next nine years, NAR received requests regarding advancement training, so the Medical Career Advancement Program was created in 1999. Due to the need for additional educational support, the first College Readiness class began in 2000. Extra support services have grown over time as populations have changed, industries have evolved, and education has become more readily available.

Today, the Pathway supports participants in these ways:

As practical nursing programs take at least one year to complete and registered nursing programs take at least two years to complete, the Pathway focuses on preparing students for making the most of their time in these rigorous programs. Because many students enrolled in the Pathway are simultaneously working as nursing assistants or in other entry-level positions, it can often take 3 to 5 years for them to complete training, especially if they are English language learners. The Pathway is dedicated to assisting those with barriers to upgrading their first job and with career planning for lifelong career growth.

The Pathway students who gain employment in various nursing positions, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) or Registered Nurses (RN), are tracked for one year and can return for additional support as they move through higher degree programs.

Program Funding and Costs

Scholarships are available for up to two semesters of tuition assistance for the MCA program, which specifically provides support for those who have already been accepted into college-level nursing programs. MCA tuition assistance is available to all students who qualify. In 2017, MCA awarded $54,200 in scholarships to nursing students. NAR is free for participants outside of costs required for transportation, uniform, and $130 for a background check and state test fee. The Pathway is partially funded through a grant called Minnesota Job Skills Partnership from the Minnesota Department of Education and Economic Development (DEED) and received community support from the Greater Twin Cities United Way.


The Pathway partners with Saint Paul College and Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning to offer the College Readiness Academy (CRA). CRA provides free college readiness classes which include college navigators to assist new Americans entering the U.S. college system, and the Academic Advantage program, , which provides support classes for nursing pre-requisites and a Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) preparation class. CRA students pay a minimal fee of $20 for books. Scholarship funding for nursing students is provided through private donations and government grants. The Pathway has created relationships with employers to hire program graduates as nursing assistants, practical nurses, and registered nurses.

The Pathway Graduate Success Story

Kushe came to the United States from Burma and enrolled in the Nursing Assistant training program. After excelling in IIM’s training program, she began working as a nursing assistant in the long-term care industry. Kushe enjoyed her work, but found that she wanted to be able to do more for her residents; she needed to become a nurse. She returned to IIM for a College Readiness grammar course that strengthened her English in preparation for college courses. IIM’s Medical Career Advancement program awarded Kushe scholarships and connected her with tutors as she pursued her nursing degree.

Today, Kushe and her family are thriving. In 2015, Kushe passed her licensed practical nurse board exam. She and her husband bought their first home, and their three children are in school programs for gifted children.

NAR Program Achievements

The Pathway accomplishments are shown through quantitative proof as well as success stories; of the 140 Pathway Nursing Assistant Training graduates, 98% pass the Minnesota Nursing Assistant certification, and 85% are placed in jobs. The Pathway program graduates are earning higher incomes, too—their average starting wages were $13.96 for Nursing Assistants. Those completing the MCA or CRA are earning $21.90 for LPNs, and $29.47 for RNs.

For more information regarding the Pathway, contact Julie Garner-Pringle, Admissions and Client Services Manager, Nursing Assistant Training 651-647-0191 x314 or JGarnerPringle@iimn.orgor Michael Donahue, Medical Careers Pathway Director, 651-647-0191 x318 or

Creating a career pathway program such as IIM’s Medical Career Pathway or Hospitality Careers Pathway Program is a way to provide more intensive client services, provide trained groups of potential employees for vacant fields or needy employers, and employ labor market information to project growing industries to have long-term success.


Does your office have a great career pathway program you want to share? If so, please write to us at


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Career Planning: How to Make SMART Objectives and Goals Work for Refugees

While working with job seekers it is important to make the most out of the time shared. Using SMART objectives and goals[1] can be an efficient way to help the job seeker identify specific steps to achieve self-sufficiency and longer-term goals. It is a clear, concise way of goal setting to help clients focus their efforts.

Often times during the first employment intake, an employment team member will hear that a job seeker’s goals are, “I want to work any job” and, “I want to learn English.” Those are good thoughts, but not specific enough to provide an action plan. They are not SMART. SMART objectives and goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Example: Claude is a recently arrived refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who speaks fluent French and some English. Claude completed Secondary School (High School) but never received his diploma or certificate. Claude arrived with his mother and six siblings. During his employment intake Claude shares that his long term goal is to become a human rights lawyer, but he also understands the immediate need to financially support his family. The Employment Specialist (ES) suggests seeking work at a local warehouse that often hires new Americans. Claude agrees and is ready to embark on the job hunt.

Objective #1: Obtain employment at the warehouse within two months.


Specific Claude begins the job cycle process of applying and interviewing with one particular employer.
Measurable Claude will either have the job or will not in two months’ time.
Attainable The ES already has connections to the employer and knows they are eager to hire newly arriving refugees.
Relevant Claude wants to start working right away to support his family and have money to be able to achieve his long term dream of becoming a lawyer.
Timely Claude needs to be able to pay bills before his family’s initial funding assistance runs out.



Objective #2: Enroll in General Education Diploma (GED) training course within one year.

Specific ? The objective does not outline explicitly where Claude will enroll.
Measurable Claude attending a GED training course within one year from intake is measurable.
Attainable ? There are several questions that must be answered to know if this objective is attainable.  Is the training free? If not, how will Claude pay for it? How is Claude’s English proficiency in reading, writing, and other subjects? If he needs additional preparation, where will he get it and how long will it take?
Relevant Claude’s long term goal is to become a lawyer, having a GED or High School Diploma is required and therefore relevant.
Timely Claude can keep his job to meet basic needs while going to GED class simultaneously. He seems motivated to do it all.




It is important when creating SMART objectives and goals to consider each step required while keeping in mind the client’s immediate needs and barriers. There are several additional objectives that Claude must achieve in order to reach his longer-term goal of becoming a human rights lawyer, including:

  1. Ensure proficiency for GED training courses
  2. Enroll in GED courses
  3. Obtain a GED
  4. Apply and be accepted to college
  5. Obtain a bachelor’s degree
  6. Apply and be accepted to law school
  7. Obtain a law degree
  8. Obtain a job in the human rights field

Going through each objective required to meet longer-term goals utilizing the SMART technique may help the ES, as well as the client, understand the pathway of a career and its feasibility for the client.

Look out for activities on career planning and SMART objectives and goals in Higher’s upcoming Job Readiness Toolkit!

What are some ways that you teach goal planning when working with refugees? Share your best practices with us at!

[1]Objectives are the measurable steps an individual takes to achieve his/her goal(s).

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WIOA Youth Program Updates and Resources

The implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) creates several ways for refugee clients to access the mainstream workforce system and offers young adults in particular some valuable resources. (If you are new to the WIOA program, check out this previous Higher blog for 5 easy first steps to connect with WIOA opportunities.)

The Youth Services Team within the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration recently launched “Our Journey Together: The WIOA Youth Program Technical Assistance (TA) Series” with four webinars in October. Whether you are new to the world of WIOA or consistently refer clients for WIOA services, here are some updates and resources shared in the webinar series worth knowing.


  • The WIOA Youth Program Fact Sheet gives an overview of available services and outlines eligibility requirements, which you may find helpful in making appropriate referrals to your local American Job Center.
  • The WIOA Youth Program Element Resources web-page covers 14 key topics related to youth education and employment, such as Paid and Unpaid Work Experience, Occupational Skills Training, and Leadership Development Opportunities. You can access a wide range of topic-specific resources from here, such as links to workforce training materials, toolkits, and webinars.

Focus on Out-of-School Youth

There has been a shift toward primarily serving out-of-school youth (OSY) with the passage of WIOA. To review out-of-school eligibility requirements, you can watch this brief 5-minute video presentation.

What’s Ahead

Stay tuned for upcoming WIOA Youth Program TA resources relevant to your work with refugee youth employment, including topics such as: Job Corps, Mentoring, Financial Literacy, Trauma-Informed Care, Summer Employment, Career Pathways, Entrepreneurship, and Apprenticeship. Enroll in the Workforce GPS system here to receive notifications about future webinars and resources.

Written by Carrie Thiele.


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WeWork Pledges to Hire Refugees

WeWork is an American company which provides shared workspace, community, and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, and existing small and large businesses. Founded in 2010, it is headquartered in New York City with many other locations (here).   On Tuesday November 14, the Washington Post reported that WeWork will hire 1,500 refugees globally over the next 5 years. This could be a great opportunity for refugee clients. Check out the full article here.


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Three Critical Factors for Developing Occupational Training Programs

How do you decide which refugee occupational training programs to develop when there are countless options?

Huda Muhammed, IRC Baltimore Program coordinator

Maryland has found a winning strategy that includes labor market evaluation, employer input, and consideration of client interests and past experience. ORR’s Targeted Assistance Program (TAP/TAG) grant is given by Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees (MORA) to Baltimore City’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs (MIMA).

MIMA works with training program providers to ensure contextualized Vocational English language training (VELT)and industry-recognized credentials (where required by employers) are part of each program.

MIMA chose to subcontract a portion of its funding to the International Rescue Committee to provide industry recognized training programs, in addition to placement and case management services. The IRC is using the funding to partner with the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) and different vendors to provide medical front office, welding, and forklift training programs, all adapted for the refugee community.

The focus areas for these short-term occupational programs were chosen very carefully. Huda Muhammed, Program Coordinator at IRC, says, “The first thing I do when thinking about training in the Baltimore area is go to O*NET and research occupational growth projections, average salaries, and for potential employers in the area.”  The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) is under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration and is the nation’s primary source of occupational information. Muhammed then validates her data with local employers, she shares ideas on training programs, and she gauges employers’ interest in hiring training program graduates. This ensures training programs respond to real workforce needs.

A final step in the selection of trainings to develop is to “always look at the background of your clients and the jobs they’ve had before,” said Huda. Many of her clients have welding experience and were very interested in obtaining a welding program certification in the U.S., confirming that it was a solid training focus.

The process has paid off – the average wage for graduates of any of the training programs was more than $13 per hour in July 2017.

We’d love to hear about short-term occupational programs in your state. Email us at to share your story.

Guest post by Carrie Thiele.

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New Year, New Focus

As the refugee resettlement world starts a new fiscal year, you may be wondering how to refocus some of your energy, particularly if you are seeing a smaller case load. The Refugee Employment Services (RES) team at the YMCA International Services Center in Houston, TX, has started refining their services and refocusing goals for the upcoming year after experiencing a significant decline in the number of clients. Joanne Pantaleon Torres, Employment Services Director, shares several ways they are customizing and strengthening their employment services and community partnerships, including:  

  1. Providing higher-quality job placements. Joanne’s team is applying more time and energy to find individual solutions to client barriers. Fewer clients mean employment case managers spend more time getting to know each client, understanding their unique situation and goals, and making better job matches.

YMCA International Services Refugee Employment Services Team

The YMCA International Services Center is also implementing a more assertive approach to employer prospecting. Engaging a front desk volunteer who doesn’t mind making cold calls to new businesses is resulting in higher-paying job leads. Employment specialists are researching online job openings with current employers to find positions that require additional skills, pay better, or have more advancement opportunities that go beyond “typical” placements.

  1. Rethinking vocational training. In FY2016, YMCA International Services Center moved the Vocational Training Program in-house by hiring a full-time Vocational Training Liaison who screens potential training participants, reviews their background experience, and makes recommendations for trainings. Previously, the RES team referred clients to a refugee services office at partnering organization Houston Community College (HCC). HCC continues to be a preferred vocational training partner for YMCA, and together they are working on solutions to provide continued learning opportunities that accommodate clients’ work schedules. For example, they recently piloted bilingual HVAC and welding classes on the weekends for Spanish-speaking clients. It’s been successful so far—there was a 100% successful completion rate among their first weekend welding cohort!


  1. Connecting with more Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) opportunities. Referring clients to a new Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) program has been a highlight of the past year, and the RES team is looking for ways to expand these resources. The Bilingual Education Institute, a network partner of the YMCA, is offering VESL classes onsite at two hotels where several YMCA clients work. The RES team is also exploring a new partnership with Houston Center for Literacy’s “English at Work” program in upcoming months to incorporate into services offered to employed clients. YMCA International Services has observed an increased commitment from clients in these classes vs. traditional ESL classes. In addition being conveniently located and scheduled, Joanne points out that, “participants are more likely to stay in the class and learn when it’s connected to their job.”

What are your team’s priorities for the coming year? We’d love to hear your thoughts at

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Want a well-paying job with benefits for your clients? Consider apprenticeships!

According to experts on National Public Radio’s (WAMU 88.5) program that originally aired on June 12th titled How To Earn Six Figures Without A Four-Year Degree, by 2025 there will be two million jobs needing skilled labor that will go unfilled if today’s labor market conditions hold. The program featured four experts from different backgrounds who discussed the merits of apprenticeship job training over more traditional forms of education.

The takeaway for you:

  • Many jobs do not require four year college degrees and pay middle income wages, including some in the six figures
  • Many positions are most easily accessed via apprenticeships

What is an apprenticeship?

  1. It is typically a three to four year training program where you are learning the building blocks of a specific job, leading to mastery in an occupational area and professional certification that travels with you. Some apprenticeships are for a set amount of time, while others are competency-based, allowing apprentices to complete their training as fast as their aptitude allows.
  2. You are working and getting paid while also completing academic coursework that is tailored to the position and provides a foundational and conceptual framework.
  3. You are learning under direct supervision of a skilled expert.
  4. You are training to take an available job with that same company.

Apprenticeships have been around for centuries but in the last century they lost favor as the four-year college experience was increasingly sought after and promoted by parents and school guidance counselors. This trend appears to be reversing however. Factors including an aging American workforce, the career preferences of younger American workers, and the emergence of new technologies requiring specialized skills have all contributed to an ever-increasing gap between available jobs and good candidates for those jobs. As a result, there is a renewed interest in apprenticeships as a strategy for incentivizing workers and filling labor shortages.

Panelist Robert Lerman, a Fellow at the Urban Institute and a founder of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship, discussed the difficulty of the school-based-only approach for some young people.  Courses in a four-year degree program do not always feature relevant, skill-based learning, so why spend the time and money? To illustrate this point the program spoke with Cory McCray, a current Delegate in the Maryland House of Representatives and former electrician who completed an apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. As an apprentice in the construction trade McCray did not assume the levels of debt accrued by his peers who went to four-year colleges because he had fewer classes and completed paid work as part of his training. He argues that the academic coursework he did have was motivating because it led to a quality performance on the job.

Other panelists spoke about the challenges of making an informed decision about a career path without some significant exposure in the workplace. For example, businesses in the tech industry find that hands-on workplace learning is essential to helping staff gain mastery in their field. Ken Hitchcock, Director of the Pickens County Career and Technology Center in Liberty, South Carolina stated that many apprenticeships provide additional support to those that believe they have poor math abilities or those that need English language support by providing remedial classes.

In what industries are apprenticeships located?

According to guest Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, there are lots of opportunities in a variety of industries: manufacturing, IT (including cyber security), health, finance, aeronautics, mechanics, electronics, culinary arts, and construction.

Finding national and state registered apprenticeship programs in your area.

Check with your Workforce Development Board for the resources in your community. As an example, check out this great resource produced by the Oakland County Workforce Development agency in Michigan and provided by Jennifer Llewellyn, Manager of the agency.

You will find general and location-specific information on apprenticeships here at the Department of Labor Apprenticeship USA website.

So let’s get to work for our clients of all ages!

Additional Resources                                                      

See previous blog post on apprenticeships from Higher:

National Apprenticeship Week is November 13-19

This post is written by Guest Blogger Alicia Wrenn, Assistant Director of Integration at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Does your agency utilize apprenticeships for clients? If, yes please let Higher know by writing us at

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