A Few Ways to Engage Volunteers in your Employment Program

With all the changes over the course of FY17, Higher has learned that many offices have seen a surge of interest from community volunteers.

Though it can be time consuming to bring on volunteers, when volunteers are involved in the resettlement process they can become powerful community advocates on behalf of refugees.

Here are a few specific ways you can use volunteers in key program areas.

Job Readiness

  • Filling out mock job applications with clients: Gather various job applications from employer websites or places of business. Have volunteers practice filling out applications with clients for the jobs that they are interested in. Focus on any English words that may be confusing or new to clients.
  • Assisting with Job Readiness training: Volunteers can help teach job readiness class or meet 1-on-1 with clients to review key concepts or help them to prepare for job interviews. Mock interviews with individuals or small groups is a great way to prepare for job interviews.
  • Assisting with Transportation: Volunteers can provide transportation for clients searching for jobs nearby or attending job interviews. Once a client accepts a position, volunteers can assist with learning routes to and from a job or assist with arranging transportation if the job requires work at times when public transportation may be inconsistent (e.g. Sundays or night shifts).
  • Financial Literacy: Volunteers can help teach financial literacy courses or provide one on one training to clients. This includes helping clients to open a bank account or complete personal budgets.

Job Development

  • Researching available jobs: With a client by their side, have volunteers research employment opportunities near bus lines or within walking distance of the client’s home.
  • Recruiting potential employers: Have volunteers tap into their networks – work, church, sports teams, family, etc. – to see if anyone they know is interested in hiring refugees.

Post-Placement Assistance

  • Helping clients maintain employment: Once a client is employed, ask a volunteer to sit down with him/her and review the importance of timeliness, not missing work, appropriate dress and proper work behavior.

How do you utilize volunteers in your programs? Write to us at information@higheradvantage.org to share your stories.

For more ideas on engaging volunteers, check out these previously published Higher blog posts:

When Serving Highly Skilled Refugees, You Don’t Need to Re-invent the Wheel!

Many refugee employment professionals dream about developing customized employment services for clients with higher levels of education and professional experience. Unfortunately, because of limited time and resources, these dreams are rarely realized.

Take heart, my friends! You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Momentum has been building on the issue of skilled immigrants for the past decade, and some great resources have been developed that you can use, adapt, or refer clients to directly.

Check out the organizations and initiatives below:

Upwardly Global– Upwardly Global (UpGlo) provides customized training and support for skilled immigrants and connects them to employer partners interested in hiring global talent. In addition to its 4 brick and mortar locations (New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Silver Spring, MD) UpGlo offers online training programs for skilled immigrants who live elsewhere in the US. In the past year, Upwardly Global has begun offering refugee-specific services, including an online learning portal, free access to Coursera online college courses, and other tailored trainings and resources.

IMPRINT Project– The IMPRINT Project is a coalition of organizations active in the emerging field of immigrant professional integration. Imprint works closely with business, government, higher education and other partners to raise awareness about the talents and contributions of immigrant professionals. In addition to the services that member organizations provide, IMPRINT provides a wealth of resources on its’ website including publications, program resources, articles and op-eds and webinars. Check out the IMPRINT Project’s recently released interactive map which showcases over 50 programs and services around the country that are designed to help immigrant and refugee professionals.

Global Talent Bridge– An initiative of World Education Services, Global Talent Bridge is dedicated to helping skilled immigrants fully utilize their talents and education in the United States. Global Talent Bridge’s services include support, training, and resources for community organizations, government agencies and employers; direct outreach to skilled immigrants, including seminars and comprehensive online resources; and policy advocacy at the local, state and national level. To get started, check out their Resources for Immigrants page.

Welcome Back Initiative– The Welcome Back Initiative focuses on internationally trained health workers living in the United States. They do this primarily through their network of “Welcome Back Centers” which provide orientation, counseling and support to foreign-trained health workers. Welcome Back Centers currently exist in California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington State, Maryland, New York, Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education(CCCIE) – In addition to the professional experience and education immigrants bring with them, many also pursue education here in the US. Classes at a community college are often the first step. CCCIE’s mission is to raise awareness of the important role community colleges play in delivering educational opportunities to immigrants and to promote and expand the range and quality of programs and services for immigrant students among community colleges around the country. For an orientation to this organization and what they do, check out their Immigrant Students and Workforce Development page.

In addition to the great resources listed above, don’t forget about mainstream workforce development programs/resources in your region that may provide the extra boost that a skilled immigrant needs to break into a professional job. Contact your local American Job Center to inquire about training opportunities including Apprenticeships, On-the-job Training, and Individual Training Accounts (ITAs).

What are your go-to resources for refugee clients with professional backgrounds? We’d love to highlight your success story. Get in touch at information@higheradvantage.org.

Webinar Alert: TANF, Childcare and Workforce Development (Today!)

Note: After posting this announcement yesterday, it came to our attention that the registration had been closed. Following this information, we removed the announcement from our site. We are happy to announce that registration has been reopened for this webinar, in case you are able to attend today. We apologize for any confusion. 

Possibilities for Coordination between TANF, Child Care, and Workforce Development
July 26, 2017, 3:00 – 4:00 PM EST

Child care subsidies are critical for families receiving TANF cash assistance, as well as those transitioning off assistance, to be able to participate in employment activities, to maximize educational activities, and achieve better employment outcomes. Studies show that parents receiving child care are likely to have more stable employment, which enables them to support their families and gain increased financial security.

This webinar will explore how states have coordinated TANF and child care services to enhance workforce development outcomes. The webinar will also examine the research associated with TANF and child care to highlight best practices. Presenters will include Heather Hahn, Senior Fellow, Urban Institute; Erin Oalican, Reach Up/TANF Program Director, Vermont Department for Children and Families; and Paulette Bushers, TANF Program Manager, Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Register here.

Tackling the Transportation Barrier

Transportation is one of the most significant barriers that refugees face in obtaining initial employment and advancing in their careers.

Tackling this barrier requires a multi-faceted strategy:

1.)  Incorporate community navigation into job readiness training

Photo by Daniel Wilkinson

Being able to navigate one’s community is important. There’s nothing more isolating and paralyzing than not having the ability to venture beyond your own home.

Helping clients develop a mental map of their community and ensuring that they are able to use the public transportation system should be a key learning objective integrated into Job Readiness curriculums.

2.) Ensure that employment opportunities are easily accessible to clients

Photo by Daniel Wilkinson

This is easier said than done, but very important. In order to set clients up for success resettlement, programs must consider likely employment possibilities when finding an apartment for refugee families. Employment teams and R&P teams should be in constant communication about preferred neighborhoods that would be most conducive to accessing employment opportunities.

Sometimes due to financial constraints, limited housing, or the preferences of refugee communities themselves, you may not be able to place new families in the most ideal locations for employment opportunities. In these cases, it’s up to you to put in the additional effort to identify employers that will be easy for clients to reach.

While it’s easy to stick with your go-to employers, putting in the work to find employers that are convenient to different neighborhoods will help you diversify your employer network and create better employment situations for your clients.

3.) Think outside the box

Photo by Daniel Wilkinson

Every situation is different, and the reality is that you often have to make less-than-ideal employment opportunities work. For example, in New Orleans, most of Catholic Charities’ clients prefer to live in an area of the city that is not particularly convenient to employment opportunities, resulting in long commutes on multiple bus routes.

Catholic Charities has been able to minimize the impact of this challenge by purchasing affordable bicycles for their employment clients from another local non-profit which teaches at-risk youth bike repair skills. The clients then are able to do part of their commute by bike which can cut their commute time in half or make it possible to take just one bus instead of two.

In addition to facilitating bicycle access, consider other creative alternatives such as car pool solutions, ride share services or employer-sponsored transportation.

4.) Recognize that transportation is connected to career advancement.

For those clients with the desire and ability, make sure that your agency provides resources (in their language if possible) for obtaining driver’s licenses. Also consider asking volunteers to help clients prepare and practice for driver’s license tests.

What transportation solutions have you found work best for your clients? Let us know at information@higheradvantage.org or by filling out this poll:

How do most of your clients get to work?

 

Driving in the United States: A Resource from the Refugee Center Online

Every state across the US requires you to get a driver’s license if you want to get behind the wheel of a car.

It is not uncommon for Americans to drive more than an hour each way to work, and 77 percent of Americans drive alone to their jobs, while an additional 11 percent carpool.

Driving may be a mode of transportation to work for some of your clients.  Thus, educating refugees about the local licensing process is very important and should be included in Cultural Orientation and Job Readiness Courses.

Clients need to know and understand the licensing rules, before beginning the process to legally drive. To help clients understand the intricacies of driving in America, The Refugee Center Online has put together How to Get a Driver’s License: Translated Driver’s Handbooks in over 20 languages.

In the United States, the issuance of licenses is the authority of individual states (including Washington, D.C. and all territories). Drivers are normally required to obtain a license from their state of residence, and all states recognize each other’s licenses for temporary visitors.

Any questions about driving should be directed to state DMV offices or local police.  If you have any additional resources you would like to share please contact us at information@higheradvantage.org.

Don’t forget to buckle up!

Models for Integrating Language and Workforce Development Skills

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a 1-day conference at Johns Hopkins University’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington D.C. The theme of the conference was “Integrating Migrants into the Workforce” and focused on immigrant integration efforts in both Germany and the U.S.

One of the most interesting presentations I heard was by Dr. Heidi Wrigley from Literacy Work International. The Presentation focused on models in the U.S. that are leading the way in offering both English instruction and vocational training.

Here are four models that Dr. Wrigley highlighted:

McDonald’s: English Under the Arches

English Under the Arches (EUA) is one of four Archways to Opportunities programs designed to help employees grow professionally.

The program launched in 2007 with the mission to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) classes that teach managers and crew the English they need to communicate effectively and confidently with customers, staff and in their lives outside of McDonald’s.

These classes are free for employees and they are also paid their hourly wage while they are in class. Helping non-native speakers learn English allows them to break down barriers and feel comfortable when communicating effectively with fellow team members, customers, and, most importantly, in their everyday life.

Proficiency in English is often a prerequisite for most jobs in the U.S. and provides mobility for individuals to pursue higher education opportunities, which in turn leads to increased earning power. To learn more about this program, visit the EUA webpage or read the most recent Archways to Opportunity Progress Report.

Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs: Ready to Work

Ready to Work (RTW) is a workforce development program in Seattle, WA designed for immigrants and refugees who face barriers to gaining employment.

The program combines English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with computer literacy instruction and case management to help immigrants gain job readiness skills and take steps toward economic self-sufficiency.

RTW was created as a prototype model of English language acquisition offered in a community-based setting, and focused on career development, and employment. Classes meet four days a week, three hours a day, for a total of 12 hours per week.

Instruction is provided by two Seattle Colleges and Literacy Source (a community-based adult education provider). Unlike many other programs, RTW tracks participants’ progress over a longer time frame than conventional funding streams typically allow.

For more details, see National Skills Coalition’s Amanda Bergson-Shilcock’s blog post from June 2016: Ready to work: Seattle creates new on-ramp for immigrant English learners.

Washington State: I-BEST

Washington’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program (I-BEST) quickly teaches students literacy, work, and college-readiness skills so they can move through school and into living wage jobs faster.

Pioneered by Washington’s community and technical colleges, I-BEST uses a team-teaching approach.

Students work with two teachers in the classroom: one teacher provides job-training and the other teaches basic skills in reading, math or English language.

Students get the help they need while studying in the career field of their choice. The I-BEST program offers several career pathways including Hospitality, Manufacturing and Nursing.

I-BEST challenges the traditional notion that students must move through a pre-determined sequence of basic education or pre-college (remedial) courses before they can start working on certificates or degrees.

The combined teaching method allows students to work on college-level studies right away, clearing multiple levels with one leap.

Check out this video, which features three students sharing their experience with the I-BEST model:

OneAmerica’s English Innovations

English Innovations (EI) is a blended social learning model that integrates English language learning and combines a collaborative, supportive classroom environment with online tools that enable self-paced, independent learning.

Offered as an alternative approach to conventional systems of language instruction which often do not provide the flexibility and resources that adult immigrants need, the EI program includes:

  • Tailored curriculum framework integrating digital literacy skills & language development
  • Blended model for in-class and self-paced learning through online tools and game-based learning
  • A collaborative classroom environment which facilitates cognitive, social and emotional engagement
  • Tutor-facilitated activities, volunteer involvement, and peer support
  • A model grounded in communities, engaging immigrants and immigrant-serving organizations in advocacy for effective English learning and immigrant integration

How do you see ESL and Vocational Training intersecting in your area? Are you aware of an innovative model that we should highlight? Let us know at information@higheradvantage.org.

*Note: Some language in this post was pulled directly from program websites for the purpose of accurately describing these programs.

 

Alternative Pathways for Highly Skilled Refugees

Source: https://www.uaf.nl/english

Source: https://www.uaf.nl/english

While many professional fields in the U.S. require licensure, refugees from professional backgrounds who are not immediately able to pursue these credentials don’t necessarily need to be stuck in low-level jobs.

A recent post by our friends at WES Global Talent Bridge shares some fantastic alternative career pathways that highly skilled refugees (and those who work with them) may want to explore, whether they are working towards licensure or just looking for work that is related to their skills.

Here’s a few options they recommend:

  • Accountants can analyze budgets and costs for institutions without a certified public accountant (CPA) license.
  • Engineers or architects who are not lisenced can still work in technical, advisory, and management positions related to engineering projects.
  • Healthcare Professionals have many options including administration, community health, and research. In addition short-term training programs such as CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) or Phlebotomist certification can be a good entry point.
  • Lawyers can work as paralegals, and may be able to advise on foreign law as a foreign legal consultant (FLC)
  • Social workers and psychologists can find work as community workers in non-profits and schools.
  • Teachers can sometimes work as substitutes, or even full-time teachers at private and charter schools. Many states also offer alternate routes to certification or licensure (e.g. New York City Teaching Fellows, Teach for America, etc.)

While newly arrived refugees will likely need assistance identifying and accessing the alternative pathways, the opportunities are there. Some refugee employment programs around the country are hiring dedicated staff or mobilizing volunteers that specialize in identifying opportunities and facilitating networking and career mentorship for highly skilled refugees. This is emerging as a best practice in serving this unique subset of newly arrived refugees.

To read the WES Global Talent Bridge article in its entirety, click here!

How to Get Refugees to Living-Wage Work

Guest post from Alicia Wrenn, Assistant Director for Integration at LIRS 

I had the opportunity to attend a Forced Migration Upward Mobility Project (FMUMP) workshop on October 16th in New York City where Dr. Faith Nibbs presented her report Moving into the Fastlane: Understanding Refugee Mobility in the Context of Resettlement. It is great reading and gives us much to think about to improve employment outcomes for clients. One of the main goals of FMUMP is to assist refugees (and employment practitioners), to find jobs that pay a living-wage as defined generally as $5 over the minimum, but it will vary based on the market.

Her team did research in the Dallas and Ft. Worth communities over a period of 2.5 years. They interviewed refugees, employment staff, and scholars – 350 in total.  And they observed 300 hours of service provision and reviewed all available data and literature on the topic.

moving-into-the-fastlane With targeted skills training it took just over one year to break the living wage threshold. The study found this to be the single greatest impact on wages. This was true for all the sub-populations – including highly skilled, low skilled, for men, and for women. Dr Nibbs went through a Return on Investment calculation that showed the net effect when making these wage gains – the savings on government assistance (Food Stamps etc.), plus the increased taxes paid by the refugee at the new wage, and that weighed against the cost of job skills training of approximately $3,000 per person. The ROI to the government is about 600%. So the investment by the government in skills training makes good sense.  

This teaches us a couple of things. Employment teams should be looking for job skills training for clients from all possible sources – government, community college, and company-led – now knowing this is the single biggest influencer. The study found it to be more important than the general English language training that is available. They discovered that the typical ESL that occurs for a few hours per week and teaches general conversation has less of an impact. See the report for interesting ways to improve this instruction such as an on-line platform for more cumulative hours, and the very positive effect of tailoring the vocabulary instruction to the work place. 

Dr. Nibbs had thoughts about other issues undermining living wage attainment. It was discovered that refugee clients are not given an understanding that while yes they need to take the first job, there are certain industries that are much more financially rewarding and will pay a living wage. This research has shown that clients by and large had no idea that they would never make ends meet nor advance up the pay scale in certain sectors. It was thought that Case Managers themselves might not be aware of this hierarchy of earning potential by industry sector.

There are a few interesting pilots occurring to address these gaps. The Office of Refugee Resettlement has funded a Career Navigator position in the State of Washington to determine if this can create a bridge for better placements and better information conveyed to refugees. IRC has five Career Development sites that provide to refugees targeted career training one year after arrival for those unemployed. There should be some interesting learnings down the road.

The report is here –  http://www.fmump.org/ – on the home page there is an option to download. 

You may also be interested in checking out Dr. Nibbs’ presentation at Higher’s Second Annual Refugee Employment Conference, which took place in Omaha, NE in November, 2015: http://www.higheradvantage.org/second-annual-refugee-employment-workshop-resources/ .

Religious Observance and Employment: Work Schedules

coexistComplete schedule flexibility is a very common requirement for both full and part time entry level jobs. Adding schedule conflicts for any reason, no matter how legitimate and important, makes our clients less competitive in the job market.

This post focuses on practical solutions and talking points in line with the reality of starter jobs, early employment and rapid self sufficiency. There are many legal and civil rights issues surrounding religious freedom and workplace accommodation of religious observance in the workplace.  You can read more about them in this guide from the Anti-Defamation League.

The Employer Perspective

Work schedules change from week to week depending on workload, time off requests and emergencies. Managers schedule carefully.  Absences or tardiness make their jobs harder.  Other team members pay the price in schedule changes and increased workloads. When hiring, employers often decide to hire a candidate who can be completely flexible to work any schedule as necessary.

Many starter jobs are customer service positions that need to be done during busy times for the employer. The majority of customers in the U.S. are able to shop on weekends. That’s when many hospitality and retail businesses are busiest. Most employers that are open on Saturdays and Sundays cannot guarantee regularly scheduled weekend days off to any employee.

The Reality for Most U.S. Workers

Weekends are when many religious observances happen for a variety of faiths.  The reality is that, often in their first job, no U.S. worker can expect to have regularly-scheduled days off on weekends. It would be irresponsible not to explain this fact very carefully to all clients who would strongly prefer to have weekends off for religious reasons. Doing so can also help clients avoid feelings of discrimination and protect valuable employer partnerships by screening out clients for whom the job might not be the best fit.

Talking Points for a Difficult Client Conversation

Explaining U.S. workplace expectations and cultural assumptions about religious observance is an aspect of helping clients adjust their expectations. Here are some additional talking points you can use when discussing religious observance and work schedules with clients:

  • In the US Workforce, seniority is often the best long term solution. Over time, employees are able to secure work schedules that better meet their needs. This point also reinforces the importance of sticking to a job rather than quitting too soon or hopping from job to job.
  • Over time, as clients acquire more US workforce experience, they may be able to secure a job upgrade that can offer the schedule flexibility they require.  The “best” job isn’t always the one that pays the most. We can help clients understand the factors they need to consider when deciding what is the best job for them.
  • Another solution, depending on employer policies, would be to discuss a trade with other employees who would prefer to have a different weekend day off for their own religious observance.  This solution will be more likely after a few months to demonstrate the value the client contributes in the workplace and the benefits of partnership with your agency. 

How Three Refugee Families Decided to Handle Religious Observance

Here are three quick examples of the different decisions three very observant refugee families made about working on weekends.

1.  The head of a large Muslim family felt that he had no choice but to accept a hotel housekeeping job that offered very little initial schedule flexibility. He stuck with the job and after only five months, he was able to secure a better work schedule that allowed him to work a split shift every Friday so he could attend mosque.

2.  A Christian family chose part time work at a business that was closed on Sunday. That meant that both the husband and wife had to work to earn enough money to meet their basic expenses, but were both able to attend church services regularly.

3.  A very large Seventh Day Adventist family stated from the beginning that their priority was their children’s education. So, despite the conflict with their wish to observe a Saturday day of rest, both parents took the first available job. Now, after six years in the U.S., they own their own home and all four of their children are enrolled in or have completed higher education.

Employer Perspectives on Hiring Refugees in the U.S. and Europe

Successful Job Development and Customized Job Readiness Preparation Offer Business Solutions

Two recent articles illustrate proven strategies we know work, outline employer perspectives shared between U.S. and European industry and point to growing industry-led innovations to integrate refugees into the workforce.

Results from Best Practices in Our Work

An article in fastcoexist.com highlights successful IRC employer partnerships with Chipotle, Starwood Lodging and others. They describe customized job readiness preparation, effective applicant pre-screening and interview preparation similar to services many of you provide to employer partners.

According to a quote from the article, “refugees sent [to Chipotle] by the IRC are more than seven times more likely to be qualified and hired compared to someone in the company’s typical applicant pool.

Employer Partnerships and Corporate-led Solutions in the U.S. and Europe

Businesses..say that working with refugees isn’t charity, it’s good business, according to another quote from the fastcoexist.com article from Jennifer Patterson,quote-snip project director for the Partnership for Refugees, a new initiative the White House announced in June to work with the private sector.

recent article from businesstimes.com mentions on-line educational opportunities offered for refugees in Europe. Read a previous Higher blog post about a similar opportunity from Coursera for Refugees, part of the White House initiative.

Similar Employer Motivations and Initial Concerns about Hiring Refugees

The businesstimes.com article highlights early successes and the corporate perspective on hiring refugees in Germany. Prospective employers express concern about limits to initial productivity due to low language proficiency.

Refugee employment service providers know that employers who partner with us to hire refugees quickly see beyond initial worries about language, illustrated in this quote from the fastcoexist.com article.

“We do sometimes need to increase up-front training for our refugee recruits,” says Starwood’s associate director of community partnerships and global citizenship Kristin Meyer. “But the dedication and passion they bring to the job definitely outweighs that investment.”

Statistics about initial job placements for new arrivals in Germany also mirror our success placing refugees in starter jobs with strong hospitality and service sector employer partners.  Across the country, strong hotel employer partnerships yield supportive starter jobs and support for short-term vocational pre-employment training like pilot hospitality training programs developed by IRC and Starwood lodgings.

What We Might Learn from Germany About Registered Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship is already a widespread business strategy for on-boarding and training new hires in Germany.  Read more about the expansion of registered apprenticeship opportunities in the U.S in a previous Higher blog post from our mainstream resource series.

German employers see pre-apprenticeship bridge training as necessary to prepare refugees to succeed in apprenticeship programs. This mirrors successes many refugee employment programs have with contextualized ESL, in-house short-term vocational training programs as prerequisites to successful refugee access to other mainstream workforce resources.

Businesses in the U.S. and Europe share some of the same goals and needs when hiring refugees. The services we provide to employer partners offer solutions that could be replicated in Europe.  There many be lessons we can learn from bridge training in the context of registered apprenticeship in Germany.