How to Use FREE Online Training and Education Resources

ToMortar Boardday, I found a great list of 20 free on-line educational resources through Higher’s FlipBoard magazine that includes some I’ve heard of and others that are new to me.   I wish I had time to investigate each one to evaluate the quality – which varies widely in on-line education and training offerings.  I can still think of several ways we could use these in our work with clients.

Addressing Language Skills:  If a client has already studies a subject in their native language, a basic course could help them learn vocabulary and terminology in English or help them understand what emphasis or application might be different in the US context.  At least one of the sites ( offers courses in Arabic language.  The MIT site offers courses translated into Spanish, Persian and several other languages.  There are likely other non-English language resources available from among the list.

Helping Clients Learn Basic (and more Advanced) Workplace Skills:  A couple of the sites offer courses on basic workplace skills and topics like project management, how to find a mentor, health and safety requirements and an overview of the manufacturing process.  These are likely not covered in job readiness class, but many clients could benefit from learning more about them.

Access basic US-style academic courses:  It can be frustrating for clients who yearn to attend college or University, but aren’t quite ready.  Many times, clients sign-up for on-line degrees and don’t understand the financial and time commitment or what it takes to succeed in on-line learning.  Helping clients identify relevant courses could satisfy their desire to learn while working full-time and help them understand the skills they need to succeed in any academic environment.  Some of the sites include standardized test preparation materials, as well.

Figuring out Technical Career Paths:  So many clients say they “know about computers”, but don’t know how those skills are segmented and applied in the job market.  Often, I struggled to figure out career paths and industry leads for technical skills that were completely unfamiliar to me.  With a little research, it seems like you could improve your understanding of these sectors and identify resources for clients to do so.

It would be great to hear from you about which sites you found useful and how you used them.  We’re all busy, but maybe if you can provide the list to clients, they can tell you what was useful for them.

And, stay tuned to begin using Higher’s new on-line training courses in the next month or so.  Our initial topics include  How to Communicate with Employers (for employment professionals) and Workplace Culture (for clients).  If you want to get involved in field testing to be among the first to use this great new resource designed just for us, get in touch at


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Make your Business Card Work Harder for You

Ever throw away a business card you obviously saved for some reason but couldn’t remember why?Business Card Blurb

As a Job Developer, I left a card everywhere I went, but was afraid  people wouldn’t remember us when they had a job opening.  Here’s an easy, quick and cost-effective solution.

Add a brief pitch to the back of your business cards.  You can do it the next time you reprint – or add on now with a sticker you can make yourself.  You won’t have to spend any extra money to get extra results from your job development efforts.

A few prospects I met with actually got in touch later on because of the blurb on my card, which you can see in the picture.  You’re welcome to copy it.  Or, write your own.  Use business language.  Focus on what’s in it for them.  Leave plenty of white space.



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Friday Feature: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

“Noone coutcasts-united_170_242_san do everything.  But everyone can do something.”

For me, this quote from Outcasts United, by Warren St. John captures the spirit of the story of a refugee soccer team, a remarkable woman coach and a small southern town turned upside down by the process of refugee resettlement.”

It goes way beyond soccer to capture everything refugees experience, including long commutes to work, being too tired to help with homework and struggling to pay the bills with a minimum wage job.  It’s also inspiring.

Since it was published in 2010, national media coverage about it has helped raise public awareness about refugees. The City of San Diego featured it in a city-wide book club and IRC organized several related events, including a visit by Coach Luma Mufleh.  More than 40 colleges and universities have included it in their required reading lists.  I had the chance to hear Coach Luma Mufleh speak this summer.  After the event, everyone was talking about how they could get involved with refugees in their community.

Reading it is guaranteed to strengthen enthusiasm and support for your work.



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Ethics and Client Job History

When is it ethical to falsify client job experience?  The short answer is never.  But, think about what you would do – or have done – in these situations:

?:  What iquestion markf your hotel HR contact tips you off that their system kicks out any client who doesn’t claim 6 months of previous work experience and promises to interview all of your clients if she can see their application in the system?

?:  What if you know they can do the job and they did the same thing as a stay-at-home-mom anyway?

?:  What if they just can’t remember dates of their experience or have large gaps in employment that you just want to make easier to explain?

?:  What if the client tells you they have the experience because they want to apply for a specific job and have never mentioned that before so you believe strongly that they’re lying?

Now, it’s not so simple, right?  I’ll admit that a couple of those examples hit pretty close to home.

Putting untrue or misleading information on a resume will have serious negative consequences.  We’re all heard about people losing their jobs when lies about their credentials were discovered.  Maybe no one will know if a job in rural South Sudan is real or not.  But, modeling this behavior to clients now can trip them up down the road.

Sure, the client can quickly learn how to do the job they claim to have experience doing already.  But, can they talk about what that job entails in a job interview?  Will your valued employment partner see a pattern and be able to spot falsified claims of past experience in your clients over time?  That could do major damage to that relationship, your reputation and that of your entire agency.

It’s easy to tell yourself that those stupid on-line screening systems are wrong anyway, so it’s ok to get around them.  I can’t bring myself to state emphatically that doing so is absolutely wrong, even though I know it is.

If clients just can’t remember date ranges for their job experience, are they supposed to just leave it off their resumes?  In this case, I want to say that helping them recreate dates is ok.  But, it’s easy to take it too far by stretching the dates quite a bit to camouflage gaps in employment.  It’s a slippery slope.

Ethical behavior is important for all kinds of reasons and the age old argument about whether the means justifies the end is beyond the scope of this post.  So, I’ll leave it open ended.  Comments?

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Technique to Help Clients Answer “Give Me an Example” Interview Questions

Supernova star burstHelping our clients master job interview skills is a basic of what we do.  “Give me an example from your experience” questions are an employment professional’s nightmare and they are becoming much more common in interviews for all kinds of jobs.

It’s a struggle to help refugees understand what work place skills are valued in the US and feel confident in which ones they can offer.  Delivering a concise, relevant example when you’re nervous already is not easy for anyone.  Then, add language barriers and your scheduling limitations to the mix.  Ugh.

The S T A R Technique – Situation, Task, Activity and Result – is a great tool to help clients structure responses to “give me example” questions.  Read more about it in an article from The Guardian, that also gives a great explanation of competency based job interviews.

This real life example from my 6.5 years working in employment at Caritas of Austin, TX applies this great approach to our clients.

A major hospital partner provided exact interview questions, each linked to a corporate value (like integrity or service to the poor).  Several of the questions required real life examples of that quality.  Building the skill to answer those questions took many steps:   Explain the concept of corporate values.  Define many of the words.  Provide illustrative examples.  Help the client think of their own examples.  Then, finally, practice each response.  We conducted small group interview preparation to screen candidates for very competitive positions at an exacting employer.

We learned that the example doesn’t have to be from a similar job or even from a work context.  The important thing is to use a real story and don’t refuse to answer.  I helped more than 50 clients apply for this job and prepare for the interview.  No client who didn’t at least try was ever offered a position.  Several who got job offers struggled with this type of question.  Their answers were real and thoughtful, but not always perfect.

Value:  Respect

Question:  Think of a time when you disagreed with your supervisor.  How did you handle the situation?

Possible Response Using the S T A R Technique:  (from a Burmese client who had worked in Malaysia)

  • Situation: When I worked in a warehouse, an important customer walked in and asked to buy 10 cases of our canned fish.  That’s a big order for us.
  • Task:  The manager was new and didn’t know he was a good customer.  He told me to tell him no because he didn’t have an appointment.  I didn’t think this was the right decision.
  • Activity:  I told the manager who the customer was and also told him I had time to work on loading the order now and still do all my other work.
  • Result:  The manager was glad that he did not make a mistake and embarrass a good customer. He introduced himself, apologized for the wait and sent someone else out to get tea while I hurried to load the order.  The customer and the manager were both happy.
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Gear Up Now For the Busiest Hiring Season

calendar graphic Welcome Back from Vacation.  Enjoy Indian Summer.  Make the Most of Fall.  Get Ready for the Holidays.  The end of the year will be here before we know it.

Now is the time to find job openings and reach out to new employers.  It it also often a time of heavy arrivals, so there will be plenty of clients who need to work.   Here are some scheduling tips and ideas to help you make the most of Fall opportunities.

School is back in session.  Businesses catering to students will be hiring.  There will be competition from students for part-time jobs.  But there will be turnover and opportunities.   Also, watch for late registration for ESL and community college classes now and watch for dates for orientation and registration for next semester and plan to help clients prepare and reserve time to attend.

Summer’s over.  As the heat breaks, businesses will gear up for fall.  More business travel, festivals and special events mean jobs in restaurants and hotels.   Manufacturers gear up early to meet holiday product orders and will begin hiring now.  Hiring managers are focused, but not as busy as they will be in a couple of months.

Christmas is Coming.  It’s not too late to start helping clients polish their resumes and interview skills, learn how to navigate retail on-line application questionnaires and focusing job development efforts of seasonal jobs.  Don’t forget about Salvation Army Bell Ringer jobs.  See last year’s blog post that talks about details you can use.

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Billboard Bags: Employer, Vocational Training Program and Social Enterprise

Billboard Bags is an innovative start-up social enterprise that up-cycles outdoor billboards into super cute bags that come in all shapes and sizes.  100% of their part-time employees are refugee women, who graduate from a year-long training program with stronger English, marketable hard and soft job skills and basic household financial management. Higher is entering the first 50 people to like us on Facebook in a drawing to win one of these great bags, each signed by the refugee woman who made it.  You can, too by clicking here!

bag at crabHow They Got Started

The team behind Billboard Bags in Atlanta, GA became increasingly aware of refugees’ struggle to make ends meet in their neighborhood.  “In our very own backyard, we had 3,500 refugees a year being resettled. They quickly became a part of our lives, and we knew there might be a way we could work together”, says Gisele Nelson, Execution Specialist for parent organization, Plywood People.

For a year and a half, they tested the idea of creating bags from old billboards given by a supporter glad to provide the raw material. (Blank billboards are covered with heavy printed banner material.)  They had a shed full of billboards before they knew what they were going to do with them.  In 2011, before any of the details had been solidified, an order of 5,000 bags propelled the project into high gear.

“We didn’t have a well thought out business plan or even a sewing machine”, Nelson explains.  What they did have was billboards, people to do the work, and orders to fill.  12 Burmese women and 12 sewing machines later, the first order was underway.  The learning curve was pretty sharp in the beginning.  According to Nelson, “the women we hired didn’t know how to sew.  We didn’t even know how to sew!” It took the team four months to complete 5,000 bags.

How it Looks Today

After just two years, Billboard Bags has sold over 50,000 up-cycled billboard products and has graduated 25 women from their training program.  The project has been sustainable through bag sales since the beginning and they hope to double in size by next summer.

bag woman sewing machine smallerThey currently hire 6 women, including an Iraqi manager.  They learned that new hires should be from different backgrounds, so that English is the common language that everyone can use to communicate.   They have also learned to hire in pairs (from similar backgrounds and language groups).  Each woman works 30 hours a week from 8am- 2pm each day, which is the schedule that works best for the employee trainees.


Billboard Bags is the first of four social enterprises making cool products and employing refugees that Higher will feature with a success story and product promotion for our readers in the coming months.  Like us on Facebook or check out our website to learn more and maybe get some great swag! 

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Friday Feature: War Witch (2013)

War Witch Movie Poster 1Mental and emotional health barriers are among the most difficult to address.  Employment may not address them directly, but they have many impacts on our work.  Close collaboration with resettlement case managers can help you identify work environments that might recreate trauma, alert you to the need for a longer pre-employment period or flexible work schedules to accommodate medical appointments.

War Witch is an award-winning film that portrays some of the traumatic experiences our clients struggle to overcome, through the eyes of an African child soldier and her family.  Although it portrays war in an anonymous Sub-Saharan African country, it was filmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will help you envision the landscape an increasing number of our clients come from.

Although the movie isn’t for the faint hearted (or for family viewing), joyful Afro pop music and belief in the power of mysticism help sustain hope in the movie heroine – and in many of our clients.  They’ll also make you want to dance.  You can easily check out vibrant Congolese music.  Google Papa Wemba for a classic or check out BeatMakingLab in Goma, Congo from PBS Digital Studios.

(Every Friday 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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Research Study Measures Economic Benefits of Job Upgrades Into Professional Career Tracks

It’s often difficult to help refugees with job upgrades or professional recertification, but the added income for refugees and contribution to the US economy make a  significant difference.  Skilled immigrants increased their average annualized salary by 121% (from an average of $16.967 to $37,490) when they begin working in a better job in their field.  A research study released by Upwardly Global in April of this year, documents and quantifies the economic benefits of employment assistance to help skilled immigrants secure job upgrades related to the careers in which they offer skills and experience.    Look for more resources and examples of job upgrade strategies and successes in professional recertification in the coming months at



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Compensation Comparison for Three Attainable Jobs

worker pay

Hourly wage, number of hours per week and access to benefits are all important considerations for our clients.  For the whole article highlighting the benefits to employers of paying a living wage, go to

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