Peer Conclusions from the White House

We’ll all continue to build on the energy and resources coming out of the White House National Skills and Credential Institute on June 29.  Read how four refugee and immigrant integration leaders who attended plan to build on their number one takeaway from the event.

If you missed Higher’s previous blog posts about the Institute, click these links to learn about strong refugee resettlement representation, three immediate opportunities and four best practices for serving highly skilled new arrivals while helping them find a starter job.

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Santa Clara County delegation

“The Santa Clara County Refugee & Immigrant Forum works to improve collaborations with public, private, and nonprofit service providers, to ensure that refugees and immigrants maximize the use of their skills, achieve their professional career goals, and become productive members of society.  Our next step is to present recommendations, obtain feedback from the forum, and engage community partners and clients”

Ellie Derakhshesh-Clelland
Sr. Director of Social Services
Pars Equality Center


NSCI panoramic

Session on Occupational Licensing

“My number one takeaway from the White House National Skills & Credential Institute is that there are a lot of states/organizations doing some great work in the area of skilled immigrant workforce development.  I’d like to learn more about their programs/initiatives as our time to hear from the other states was limited.  So, I plan to reach out to them to try to foster continuing conversations about the topic.  I’m hoping to learn some other program best practices.”

Karen Phillippi
Deputy Director
stl delegation

St. Louis delegation (Not pictured: Blake Hamilton, International Institute, St. Louis)

“There is already considerable depth of knowledge and experience regarding immigrant brain waste, as well as a number of programs which are doing excellent work to alleviate it.  We want to make more connections outside our region to learn from the work of others and then modify to meet the needs of our local immigrants who would benefit from career path services.”

Anna E. Crosslin
President & CEO
Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Session on Career Pathways

“I think my biggest take away was that we all (JFS and the rest of the consortium) need to be doing even more to engage employers. I don’t think that most of us have the know how at this point. We are all such client facing organizations – and employers are an entirely different language that we need to learn to speak.”  
Rebecca Craig
Community Engagement Coordinator
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Friday Feature: Welcoming America’s David Lubell Debunks “Stranger Danger”

The fear of strangers runs deep in our culture. It may start as a wise caution from parents to children, but many carry this “stranger danger” mentality into adulthood, and this perspective has a pervasive impact, not only on individuals, but also on institutions, communities, and nations.

In a recent TEDx Berlin talk, David Lubell, Founder and Executive Director of Welcoming America, debunks the “stranger danger” mentality, and talks about why diversity is critical to the vitality of our communities and why cultivating welcoming communities should be a priority alongside providing the traditional core services to newly arrived refugees.

Check it out and consider sharing with your network:


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Friday Feature: Playwright Yussef El Guindi

yussef el guindiYussef El Guindi, winner of the 2015 Stranger Genius Award in Literature, is best know for authoring plays where immigrants, particularly Arab-Americans, are at the heart of the story. It’s an experience that El Guindi knows intimately, being born in Cairo, raised in London and then moving to the United States.

Although El Guindi originally aimed for a career onstage, he has found success and has received much critical acclaim as a playwright. In 2012, his play, Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, won the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, which honors best American scripts premiering outside of New York City. The plot revolves around a doomed romance between an Arab immigrant and a American waitress. 4 arab american plays-w150-h150

El Guindi’s next play is The Talented Ones. It addresses what attaining the American Dream means for immigrants. The play has been selected for production in 2017 by the Artists Reperetory Theatre in Portland.

El Guindi’s Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat is a dark comedy that looks at identity, media-representation, love and lust in the Arab American community.  It is one of four plays in the book, Four Arab American Plays.  Four Arab American Plays is the first published collection of plays by contemporary Arab American playwrights.

(On occasional Fridays, 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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Simple Strategies to Address Common Barriers, Part 3

esl class 2At a recent Maryland-wide workshop which focused on refugee workforce development, Higher had participants do a brainstorming activity, in which groups worked together to list common barriers refugees face to employment as well as possible solutions.

These types of activities inevitably generate a “wish list” of solutions which are great ideas but not always in our power to implement quickly (e.g. adding staff members, ESL at work sites, home-based self-employment for refugee women).

While there are certainly times to pursue those big ideas, perhaps the best thing about exercises like this is that they allow groups to identify simpler solutions that can be implemented immediately.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share some of these insights from your Maryland peers, focusing on simple and practical strategies that are relatively easy to implement! So far, we’ve focused on tips for overcoming transportation challenges and tips for overcoming childcare challenges. This week we’ll share a few tips on overcoming the barrier of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) challenges.

Tips for Overcoming LEP Challenges:

  • Provide flexible ESL solutions: hold ESL classes at locations that are convenient for clients and/or offer classes at different times of the day so more clients can attend.
  • Explore alternatives to traditional ESL class: have clients speak English at home, watch TV, listen to the radio or practice with a friend once a week.
  • Develop relationships with ESL providers that offer classes at churches, libraries or community centers.
  • Leverage technology: try free education apps like duolingo to encourage language acquisition for 21st century learners.
  • Encourage your clients to work with you on this challenge, asking them to network within their community to explore solutions.

For more on LEP solutions, click here.

Stay tuned for more tips from MD refugee employment programs and stakeholders. Future barriers will include limited computer skills and unrealistic client expectations.

Feel free to participate in the conversation by leaving a comment below or sending us an email at

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Workforce Resource: Industry Competency Models

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Welcome to the first of a new blog post 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 case loads and employer relationships.  You can focus on using highlighted resources to help your clients succeed in the U.S. workforce.

Workforce Resource: Industry Competency Models

Career pathways for upward mobility in a particular sector or industry are built on a mix of soft skills and technical expertise gained through a combination of education, training and on the job experience.

The Department of Labor Education and Training Agency (DOL-ETA) has worked with a range of industry stakeholders to create 25 industry competency models in 10 industries, which are:

  1. Manufacturing,
  2. Health care/social assistance,
  3. Professional,
  4. Scientific and technical services (e.g. engineering),
  5. Energy/Utilities,
  6. Construction,
  7. Information (IT, Finance and Insurance),
  8. Accommodation and Food Services,
  9. Transportation and Warehousing,
  10. Retail Trades, and
  11. Other (Entrepreneurship)

You can access all of them through a web-based Clearinghouse that includes instructions, resources and examples of how they can be used. They are intended to identify industry needs and serve as resources for curriculum development and to develop programs to support career ladders in those industries.

Each of the models includes specific skill requirements for achieving lifelong career success in the featured industry, including specific management-level competencies.

A clickable link to ONet’s listing of occupational competencies is also included. Many of you already use ONet to research types of jobs within an industry, identify specific skill requirements employers want in qualified applicants and find concise language to include in client resumes.

Food Service Industry Example

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation contributed to the development of the Food Service Industry competency model.

This model includes expanded management-level skill requirements and you can also see career advancement pathways at a glance.

How You Can Use This Resource
Define Customer Service

Customer service is a common soft skill we talk about with clients in all kinds of job readiness activities. The competency models link to details of four specific customer service competencies (skills): Understanding customer needs, providing personalized service, acting professionally and keeping customers informed.

Demonstrate Career Ladders

Each competency model clearly outlines the required skills for success and advancement. For example, if a client doesn’t have those skills, yet, they can explore lower level career options or think about how to acquire the skills for future job upgrades. If you’re working to help higher skilled clients adjust their expectations, competency models will help them see how a starter job leads to the career they want. If client dreams are not fully informed by reality, they can quickly spot new skills they aren’t interested in and begin to understand that this career might not be the best fit for them.

Increasing the Results of Your Work

You can use the information to better understanding employer needs, craft better client resumes or applications and design job readiness training or in-house vocational training curriculums.

Showing these models to clients when you discuss their employability plans will add credible official information to reinforce what you tell them or give them a resource to learn more as they are ready for job upgrades or professional development.

Let us know if this new blog feature is useful for you and tell us how you were able to use it in your work at




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Immigrant Integration Report


While much of our work focuses on the immediate survival and basic self-sufficiency of refugee families, the importance of long-term immigrant integration cannot be understated.

A new report, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, takes a very thorough look (400+ pages!) at the issue of integration, and has found that despite the many challenges of integration, the overall picture is positive.

You can download a PDF version of the full report for free. Or, if you’re like most of us, and don’t anticipate having the time to read a 400 page report anytime soon, here is a quick overview of the report’s findings from a recent New York Times article:


  • The newest generations of immigrants are assimilating into American society as fast and broadly as the previous ones, with their integration increasing over time “across all measurable outcomes.”
  • The desire on the part of immigrants to learn English is very high and immigrants are acquiring English proficiency as rapidly or faster now than earlier waves of mainly European immigrants in the 20th century.
  • Immigrants’ education levels, the diversity of their jobs, their wages and their mastery of English improved as they lived for more time in the United States, and the gains were even greater for their American-born children.
  • About 50 percent of the foreign-born say they speak English “very well” or “well,” and almost one quarter of immigrants have college degrees.
  • The study found that first generation immigrant men ages 18 to 39 were incarcerated at about one-fourth the rate of American men in that group. Additionally, cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence than similar places without immigrants.

While studies like these are interesting from a sociological perspective, they can also provide useful talking points for those times when you need to be just a little more persuasive to win over a hesitant employer.





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New Research Identifies Essential Steps for Skilled Immigrants’ Success

cover_steps_for_success_195x250Last December, we informed our readers that World Education Services (WES) and IMPRINT were conducting a survey of college-educated immigrants in 6 U.S. cities (Boston, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose and Seattle) and we encouraged you to invite clients to participate. The results are out in Steps to Success: Integrating Immigrant Professionals in the United States.

Based on more than 4,000 responses from college-educated immigrants in the U.S., the report identifies factors that correlate with their successful integration into American life and offers recommendations for communities to better integrate these skilled workers, and take advantage of their many talents.

To give you a brief preview, here are a few of the key findings of the report:

1. Social capital is powerful: The survey showed that there is a remarkably strong correlation between the size of an immigrant’s social network and his or her likelihood of success.

2. English really matters: Across the board, stronger English language skills were correlated with virtually every possible measure of immigrant success.

3. Immigrants take enterprising approaches: Numerous self-improvement strategies were reported, including academic credential evaluation, English language classes, and additional education in the United States.

Take advantage of this cutting edge information as you develop strategies to help highly skilled clients succeed!


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Congolese Resettlement Success in Knoxville


Photo Credit: Saul Young

When it comes to the long-term integration of refugee families into US communities, the importance of volunteers and mentors cannot be overstated.

While resettlement agencies and employment programs do a great job at providing core services that help refugees become self-sufficient in the most basic sense, it can be difficult for refugees to know where to go from there.

Ongoing relationships with American families or career mentors can be a significant encouragement to new refugees, helping them feel more connected to their new community and more hopeful about their future.

For a moving example of what this can look like, check out this recent article published in the Knoxville News Sentinel about the relationship between a Congolese refugee family and an American family in Knoxville, TN. The article does a great job at showing the complimentary relationship that can exist between a refugee resettlement agency and local volunteers.

The article also provides helpful background on the history of the Congolese refugee crisis, the trauma that many of these refugees have faced, and the difficulties of family reunification when families are separated.

Higher has done several post in the past on both Congolese refugees and career mentoring. Explore these topics further and share your success stories with us at

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Kudos to the Refugee Employment Network (All of You)

white houseHigher was mentioned by name in the White House Task Force for New Americans comprehensive action plan submitted last week to President Obama.

This acknowledges the great work we all do across the country and gives the refugee employment network new opportunities to do even more to help refugees find meaningful work and community integration.

“HHS’s ORR training and technical assistance partner, Higher, focuses on employment and self-sufficiency, providing workforce solutions across the United States while supporting career entry and advancement for resettled refugees and other new Americans. “
Task Force Background

The Task Force, representing 16 federal departments, agencies and White House offices, was charged with developing a coordinated federal immigrant and refugee integration strategy focused on strengthening civic, economic, and linguistic integration efforts and building strong and welcoming communities.

The action plan lays out 16 broad goals and provides 48 recommended actions to help build welcoming communities; strengthen existing pathways to naturalization and promote civic engagement; support skill development, foster entrepreneurship, safeguard workers; and expand opportunities for linguistic integration and education.

3 Ways You Can Continue to Be Involved

Here are three ways you can learn more and get involved going foward:

  1. Learn more about the Task Force’s plan.  Download the Task Force on New Americans Fact Sheet and access the comprehensive report at a new landing page at
  2. Follow and join the conversation via social media at: #NewAmericans or #NuevosCiudadanos
  3. Get in touch with Higher at to share how you’re already building on the White House initiative. Let us know what you think Higher can do next to take advantage of opportunities that will continue to come from this initiative.

 (We had problems with our blog feed last week.  So, we’re reposting this important and exciting news since most of you probably missed it.  Apologies) 

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Employment: Gateway to Community Integration

Open Arms and MRC Austin in Austin American Statesman

The multi-cultural team of Open Arms, a textile manufacturing company that employs refugees in Austin, TX shares lunch daily. Photo Credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez

The workplace is among the first pathways to meaningful connectedness and community integration for refugees and new immigrants.

What we do every day goes beyond counting placements, addressing barriers, getting jobs and paying rent.

Two  quotes from recent articles about very different topics say this better than I can.

“The market is the heart of what has become a ‘second family’. …We’re all in the same boat.”

Click here to read more about the Malian immigrant who saved several people in the recent French grocery story attack.

 “Our lunches are not about work — they’re about connection.”

The women of Open Arms and the Multicultural Refugee Coalition in Austin, TX are creating community.  They’re inspiring.  They inspire me and I have to brag that I know them.  Click here to read about how taking a lunch break from work helps forge community.  Earning a living wage doesn’t hurt either!

NOTE:  Apologies.  We’re revising our website and it’s frozen for new content, so the Open Arms article can’t be uploaded.  It will be eventually.


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