Frontline Perspective: Former Refugees Now Working in Refugee Employment Share Their Advice

Many of our colleagues in refugee employment are former refugees. These staff members bring with them valuable first-hand knowledge of the refugee experience, critical language skills, and a unique perspective that benefits us all.

It’s important to acknowledge, however, the personal challenges and cultural adjustment that these staff members have successfully navigated (or are currently navigating) in order to be effective in their roles.

Speaking about his own experience getting started in refugee resettlement and employment services in 2011, former Higher Peer Advisor Subash Acharya says:

 “[As a Job Developer coming from a different cultural background] I found it challenging to build rapport with employers in the beginning…Many did not feel comfortable with me because they had never worked with someone like me in the past.”

Over time Subash developed strategies for overcoming these challenges, and  eventually was promoted to Employment Services Coordinator at Ascentria Care Alliance in Concord, NH. In this role he managed a successful refugee employment program from 2015-2017, before transitioning out of refugee services in order to pursue the next steps in his own professional journey.

We wondered what the experience of other former refugees now working in refugee employment has been like, so during a breakout session at Higher’s 3rd Annual Refugee Employment Workshop, we asked these individuals to answer 3 questions:

  1. What was your biggest challenge when you began working in refugee employment?
  2. What advice do you have for new refugee employment staff coming from a refugee background?
  3. How can management at resettlement agencies support staff coming from a refugee background?

Here is what they had to say:

Biggest Challenges of refugee employment staff from a refugee background (past and present challenges)

  • Adapting to a new culture while trying to help others (many from cultures different from mine) adapt at the same time can be difficult.
  • Clients from my culture often have higher expectations of me and sometimes expect me to show them favoritism.
  • Coworkers, clients and employers sometimes have had difficulty understanding my accent.
  • Coming from a different culture, early on I had some difficulty building relationships with American employers.

Advice for refugee employment staff from a refugee background

  • Be open-minded and not too judgmental towards your coworkers and clients.
  • Stop…think about when you first arrived. Then act. Your perspective as a former refugee will help you.
  • Be flexible, and don’t take things personally.
  • Work hard on your own cultural adaptation so that you can set an example for clients.

Advice for management about hiring and working with staff from a refugee background

  • Provide additional cultural orientation and be patient as these staff members continue to adapt to American culture.
  • Don’t just hire for language ability; hire former refugees who have some experience with American culture as well as the professional skills necessary for the job.
  • Just like clients, former refugees now working in refugee employment services are adjusting to general American culture as well as American workplace culture. Set these team members up for success by clearly communicating professional expectations and office etiquette.
  • Respect the unique perspective of the former refugees on your team; show an interest in their culture and demonstrate a willingness to learn from them.

We hope that sharing the perspective of our colleagues coming from a refugee background will be a reminder of their vital contributions and provide an opportunity for coworkers and supervisors to think through how they can best support and learn from these staff members.

Head, Heart, Hands: A Strategy for Employer Conversations

When I was a rookie job developer just starting out I came up with a little strategy that I would use when approaching employers. I called it Head, Heart, Hands, and it represented 3 simple messages that I wanted to communicate to employers:

  1. Head: It makes good business sense to hire refugees- it will be a good investment.
  2. Heart: I’m doing something positive by hiring refugees- I’m helping someone rebuild their life.
  3. Hands: It will make my life easier to work with this job developer and hire refugees.

Original Sketch, Daniel Wilkinson, Circa 2011

While I had initially thought of the elements of Head, Heart and Hands as the three points on my employer pitch outline, what I began to realize was that it wasn’t as important to hit all three points, but rather to identify which of the elements was the driving motivation for the employer.

Some employers’ primary concerns may be business issues such as high turnover, frequent employee absences, lazy workers, or issues affecting their bottom line. For these employers you take the “Head” approach and emphasize how your clients will meet the employers’ need where past employees have fallen short. You might highlight client retention rates, strong work ethic or the Work Opportunity Tax Credit incentive.

Other employers just need workers fast. They’re looking for an easy solution to their current labor shortage. For those employers, you take the “Hands” approach, and emphasize how you can solve that problem by getting them work-authorized, motivated and dependable employees quickly.

Finally, there are employers out there who get really excited about the “Heart” aspect. Some may be immigrants or descendants of immigrants and identify with the struggle from that perspective. Others may just have a strong motivation to help others. Although the “business case” is typically much more effective than the “charity pitch,” if you can tell that an employer is really excited to help refugees from more of a humanitarian perspective, then run with it!

Do you have a go-to strategy that you use when walking into a meeting with an employer? Let us know at information@higheradvantage.org or in the comments section below!

Free Job Development Webinar June 27- Space Limited!

Mark your calendars for an upcoming FREE webinar from our friends at DTG-EMP/Kenfield Consulting.

The webinar, “3 Red Hot Issues Every Successful Job Developer Must Address” will take place on Tuesday, June 27, from 9-10 AM Pacific Standard Time and will give an overview of the basics of the Consultative Selling model – a job development model designed for those assisting job seekers with significant barriers to employment.

The webinar will focus specifically on the following:

• How to Convince employers to hire a candidate they would typically reject
• How to Assess clients for motivation to work and when motivation is an issue implement basic intervention techniques that work
• How to Find employers who will hire candidates with employment barriers

This webinar is limited to 200 registrants, so visit www.dtg-emp.com to sign up now!

How can Consultative Selling help refugee employment programs? Listen to what Ryan Overfield, Manager of Refugee Education and Employment Programs at
Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, had to say about his staff’s experience implementing this model:

For more on Consultative Selling, check out Higher’s Consultative Selling Resource Pack, located in the Downloadable Resources section of our website.

Refugee Employment in a Strong Economy

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported May 16, 2017 that unemployment levels are down for foreign-born workers in the U.S., shrinking from 4.9 percent in 2015 to 4.3 in 2016. That’s good news!

The reports also suggests, however, that foreign-born workers are more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations and less likely to be employed in management, professional, and related occupations. For foreign-born workers, the median weekly earnings for full-time workers was $715 in 2016, compared with $860 for their native-born counterparts.

More career laddering services may be needed for refugees. As a network, we have an opportunity to capitalize on a strong economy by developing job upgrade programs that increase the economic security of refugee families. Whether your team is large or small, Higher is here to support you as you think about the next step for your clients.

Reach out to us and let us know how we can help!

To see the full report click here.

Celebrating a Client’s First Job

The way you respond to a client’s first job can make all the difference in their success in the workplace.  Celebrating a client’s first job sets the tone for the client making them more positive about what they have accomplished. Refugees spend months or years waiting to reenter the workforce. The words “You’re hired” can come as an enormous relief. A job gives clients a sense of being in control of their own lives again. Though a client may often feel disappointment in accepting an entry-level position, celebrating that job can encourage them to see this as an accomplishment and not a step-down.

Celebrating a client’s first job might be part of your regular routine and does not need to be time consuming or costly.  It’s also a great way to engage the community. Community donations for first jobs and volunteer hours might be counted towards your match for Matching Grant programs. For example, community members might donate items needed like bus cards, nonslip shoes, and hygiene products, or they might donate hours toward tasks such as mock interviews or helping clients navigate their bus route to work.

Client at USCRI North Carolina

Helping clients see their situation through a positive lens can also help with job retention. It won’t make their job easier but it does help them refocus on the positive steps that they are taking rather than the negative aspects of their new job. At all milestones in our clients’ lives here it’s important to be proud and supportive of them.

Here are two great examples from the field:

Job bags: At USCRI North Carolina’s office, employment staff use a combination of education and celebration. After obtaining a first job, a job bag is awarded to the client by employment staff. As staff hand out the bag they applaud and congratulate the client in front of their peers during job club. The contents of the bag include hygiene products, a water bottle to make sure clients remember to stay hydrated, a lunch bag to remind clients to bring food to work, a pen and notepad, an umbrella, some breath mints and a travel toothbrush and paste.

All the items for the bags are donated and put together by volunteers. The staff take the client’s photo with their bag and the photos decorate the walls of the office.

A Celebrity Walk: At the IRC of Tucson, actual cheers of joy erupt from the entire office staff any time a client gets a job. This type of celebration can make a client feel like a celebrity and is a positive influence on all other clients in the office working towards their first job.

Do you have a unique way of celebrating clients? Write to us at information@higheradvantage.org and share your story.

5 Mapping Strategies for Employer Outreach

Aside from language, literacy, and cultural adjustment issues, transportation is one of the most significant barriers to employment that our clients face. While not always possible, finding employment that is easily accessible by foot, bike, or public transportation is ideal. Here are a few mapping strategies that you can use to help your clients overcome this employment barrier:

1. Explore the area immediately surrounding your client’s home. Type your client’s address into Google Maps and zoom in and out to look for grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, factories, etc. that would be easily accessible for clients. After familiarizing yourself with a neighborhood through Google maps, it’s a good idea to visit the neighborhood, since there are things you will notice in person that you wouldn’t see just by looking at a map on a computer screen.

2. Use a map of your city’s public transportation system to inform your employer outreach efforts. Start by looking at a paper map or maps that may be available on your city’s public transportation website. Then go to Google Maps, and find transportation lines near where your clients live and follow them to see what businesses are along these routes. Another fun thing to do is to drive public transportation routes as you are doing employer outreach. Sometimes you will see businesses that may not be listed on Google Maps.

A sample of results for Google Maps search: “manufacturing near Chicago”

3. Search for target industries or major employers in the neighborhood, city or region where your clients live. For example you could search for “manufacturing near Pittsburgh, PA” or “Hotels in New Orleans.” Research the largest employers are in your area to see how accessible these employers are for your clients. Where Are the Jobs? is a very helpful website that you can use to obtain labor market information for your area.

4. Start with areas of the city your clients are already familiar with. Take a look at a map with your client or just have a conversation to find out which areas of the city they travel to on a regular basis. If a job opportunity were to open up in an area they are already familiar with and comfortable traveling to, chances are they will be positive about that job and will be likely to be successful there.

5. Use maps to advocate for your clients. Maps can come in handy as visuals in conversations with employers or with your R&P (Reception and Placement) department. With employers, you can use maps to prove that transportation will not be a problem, pointing out the exact transportation lines that your clients will use, and that the transportation schedule will coordinate with the work schedule. With your R&P colleagues, you can use maps to show which neighborhoods are best situated for easy access to employment opportunities. Employment departments and R&P departments may want to consider doing strategy 1 (above) together as a strategy for increasing collaboration on housing and employment.

One rule of thumb for public transportation: Try to keep commute times to an hour or less and avoid having clients take more than two modes of transportation (e.g. switching buses). When the commute is longer than an hour and clients have to take more than 2 modes of transportation, it is almost inevitable that they will struggle to make it to work on time or that they will end up quitting their jobs because the commute is just too overwhelming.

Hopefully, these tips will help you find jobs closer to home for your clients, as well as improve job satisfaction and retention. Let us know if you have other innovative mapping strategies at information@higheradvantage.org!

Body Language Tips for Job Developers – Infographic

In most cases, as a Job Developer, you essentially do the first interview for your clients. If you make a good impression, that employer will want to meet your clients. If not, it’s game over.

We often focus on content rather than form, preparing our clients for job interview questions or preparing our “elevator pitch” for employers, but we sometimes forget that most communication is actually non-verbal (about 80% according to this Businesstopia article).

So the next time you focus on interview prep in job readiness class or get ready to walk into an appointment with an employer, keep these 27 body language tips in mind:

body-language-tricks-to-be-instantly-likeable-infographic-2

Want to see a couple more cool info-graphics related to body language for job interviews and business interactions? Check out The Basics of Business Body Language and 7 Body Language Interview Mistakes.

We’d love to highlight your success story about a recent exchange you’ve had with an employer. Get in touch at information@higheradvantage.org.

 

Catching Up on Consultative Selling

DTG-EMP Webinar + New Higher Resource Pack

 

Mark your calendars for an upcoming FREE webinar from our friends at DTG-EMP/Kenfield Consulting. The Employment Outcomes Fundamentals webinar will take place on Tuesday, January 31st, from 9-10 AM Pacific Standard Time and will give an overview of the basics of the Consultative Selling model- a job development model designed for those assisting job seekers with significant barriers to employment. To read the full description and register for the webinar, visit www.dtg-emp.com.

 

For those of you who may be new to the Consultative Selling model, we have created a Consultative Selling Resource Pack, located in the Downloadable Resources section of our website. This resource pack includes links to our 4-part Consultative Selling blog series as well as video recordings of 3 presentations from refugee employment peers who participated in Higher’s 2016 Job Development Community of Practice (CoP), which focused on Consultative Selling.

 

*Note: Illustration on front page by Gary Phelps / EMM Wichita, KS

7 Tips if You’re New To Job Development

If you’re new to refugee job development, welcome to what is sure to be one of the most challenging and rewarding chapters of your career!

Maybe you’re fresh out of college or perhaps you’re a career changer looking for more meaningful work. You are likely very excited about your new position but you’ve probably also had a few moments of wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.

You have a long and growing list of clients that you need to place and many of them have significant barriers to employment. You’re beginning to think that your title should be Miracle Worker instead of Job Developer. Well guess what? We’ve all been there!

Here are 7 tips to get you through your first few crazy months as a Job Developer:

1. Breathe! What you are experiencing is normal. The work that we do is not easy, but it is rewarding! Murphy’s Law (“whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”) will summarize many of your days as a Job Developer, but there will also be many days where you will celebrate amazing successes with clients and coworkers.

2. Realize that there is a seasonal nature to the work that we do. Ask your coworkers or a supervisor to help you know what to expect at different times in the year. There are times in the year that will be slow and times that will be insane, both in terms of employer hiring and refugee arrivals. October and November will be crazier because of the recent bulge in refugee arrivals and also because employers do a lot of hiring in the fall. December and January are typically slow months in terms of employer hiring.

3. Get a mentor. Mentors are good for your clients, and they are good for you. Find a coworker who is more experienced and ask if they can share what has worked for them, and how they’ve dealt with the challenges of the job. Find an opportunity to “shadow” them as they do employer outreach. After watching them make their pitch to a few employers, try taking the lead on the next few employer visits, and ask your mentor for feedback.

4. Get out of the office! After going out to do employer outreach with your mentor once or twice, get out there and do it yourself. It will be scary. You’ll stumble over your words. You’ll get strange stares and doors slammed in your face. But you’ll get better. Success will come through practice and through getting out there and building relationships with employers. These relationships will not happen by looking at craigslist or doing online job applications; they will happen by you getting out there and “pounding the pavement.”

5. Focus on the Needs of Employers. While there is a humanitarian aspect to the work that we do, focusing on the difficult circumstances of our clients when we speak to employers is not likely to lead to long term partnerships. Employers become partners when they see that you understand the needs and challenges of their business, and can offer them consistent and effective solutions (i.e. motivated, reliable and dependable employees). Over time they may become passionate about helping refugees, but your job is to help them take the first step by convincing them that hiring a refugee is good for their business.

6. Have balanced expectations of your clients. Never underestimate your clients. Don’t be too pessimistic. Refugees are survivors and some of the most resilient people on the planet. You will feel like it’s impossible for some of your clients to get and keep jobs. Many of your clients will prove you wrong. On the other hand, be careful about being overly-optimistic about your clients with higher levels of English and literacy. Starting over in a new culture is a huge challenge for all refugees. Higher skilled clients have their own share of challenges, whether those be unrealistic expectations, trauma, or cultural adjustment issues. Regardless of skill level, the key is to identify barriers to employment early and work with your clients to develop an employment strategy that helps them overcome these challenges.

7. Sign up for Higher’s Online Learning Institute. Our eLearning modules will get you up to speed on best practices in the field ranging from conducting employability assessments, to communicating with employers, to writing effective case notes. Learn more about Higher’s Online Learning Institute here.

 

Consultative Selling Resource Pack

In the past couple years Higher has introduced our network to a job development model known as Consultative Selling. In addition to providing training on Consultative Selling at various Higher training events, we also published a four-part blog series and facilitated a 1-year online Community of Practice (CoP) group focused on adapting this model for refugee employment.

In order to continue helping our network learn and practice this approach to job development, we put together this resource pack, including our intitial Consultative Selling blog series and recordings of all 3 CoP calls.

Consultative Selling Blog Series

Click on the links below to read Higher’s 4-part blog series on the four primary aspects of the Consultative Selling model: Prospecting, Needs Analysis, Selling, and Follow-up:

Illustration by Gary Phelps / EMM Wichita

Part One:Hitting the Target: Prospecting Techniques That Work

Part Two:Understanding Employers’ Needs and Providing Solutions

Part Three:Providing and Selling Workforce Solutions

Part Four:Strengthening Employer Relationships Through Effective Follow-up


2016 Job Development Community of Practice (3 Presentations)

In 2016 Higher facilitated a Community of Practice (CoP) for refugee employment staff who had attended the one day training put on by Allen Anderson at our Second Annual Refugee Employment Workshop in November 2015 in Omaha, NE (to hear a little bit from Allen, check out the Innovations and Opportunities panel discussion from our Second Annual Refugee Employment Workshop page).

Over time the CoP expanded to include coworkers of the original members, and other refugee employment staff who received Consultative Selling training from Higher at separate events. You can access video recordings of these three online events below:

 

  

   

For more on Consultative Selling, click here.

If you are using this model, we would love to hear about your experience. Please email us at information@higheradvantage.org.