Building a Story Bank to Support Your Program’s Success

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. –Robert McKee

The recent U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Workforce GPS webinar, Using Storytelling to Share Your Program Success, provided some great ideas for collecting stories that can inspire our clients, encourage employers, and inform the community.

Why are personal stories important? Research indicates that people remember information better when it’s delivered through a story. Potential employers learning about refugee employment services may be more likely to connect with you by hearing a story about a client overcoming barriers to reach their career goals rather than hearing just the facts about your team’s outstanding placement numbers and retention rates. Most importantly, make sure you obtain every client’s consent on a document that they sign. Without a client’s consent their story cannot be shared.

Sharing stories requires having them available. Presenters Lenora Thompson and John Rakis of Coffey Consulting LLC shared these tips for building and maintaining a story bank:

  • Have a variety of stories ready to meet a variety of audiences. Save your stories by theme or by audience for ease in locating the right one.
  • Ensure your materials are high-quality, whether the story is delivered verbally, in written format, through photographs or by video.
  • Protect your client’s identity as needed by using a completely different first name.
  • Have accompanying media releases on hand.
  • Keep your story bank up to date so that it’s relevant to any current issues occurring in the news.
  • Enlist volunteers to build your story bank – journalism students, retirees or videographers would make great candidates!
  • Share the stories far and wide in your agency’s newsletters, website and social media pages, as well as in community presentations, job readiness classes and in one-on-one conversations with employers and clients.

Interested in learning more about crafting an effective story? Check out the complete power point presentation and a downloadable list of additional storytelling resources on the DOL’s Workforce GPS website. You can also visit the National Storytelling Network’s website to find story collections, additional resources, and for information on small grants that could be used to help build your agency’s story bank.

Do you have an example of an effective employer or client story? We’d love to share it! Email us at information@higheradvantage.org.

Higher is Hiring

Are you someone who is extremely passionate about refugee employment? Higher is seeking to fill its Network Engagement Specialist (NES) position. The position is ORR funded through the Higher technical assistance grant.

The NES will develop high quality technical assistance materials on promising practices in refugee employment to be disseminated through multiple channels. This position is a critical role in supporting and fully engaging the nationwide network of resettlement agencies, other refugee serving organizations, and employers.  This includes working on strategies for the initial refugee employment and on longer term economic integration.  The NES will have the opportunity to develop Innovative strategies for refugee employment and self- sufficiency.

The NES will be responsible for all areas of online engagement including the metrics for each platform. The candidate must be strong writer. The position assists the Program Manager of Higher in developing technical assistance priorities based on information gathered during in-person trainings, webinars, TA requests, and other interactions with the Higher network.

To read the full job description and apply please click here. Please share this link with your network.

Training Shortens Entry Path into U.S. Financial Field

We’ve all learned that having overseas financial services experience doesn’t guarantee quick entry into the U.S. banking industry. Fortunately that traditionally long journey toward entering the U.S. financial sector has been shortened for some refugees, thanks to industry training initiatives.

Pictured is Baktash Muhammadi

Baktash Muhammadi, for example, resettled from Afghanistan to the U.S. in the summer of 2017,  started Goodwill’s BankWork$ financial services training program within three weeks of arrival. Upon completion of the free, eight-week training program, Baktash was quickly employed as a relationship banker at Bank of the West and is on a career path he loves!

BankWork$ provides training for young adults from low income and minority communities to prepare them for jobs as bank tellers, customer service representatives, and personal bankers. Graduates are supported not only in their initial job searches, but receive continued mentoring to help with future job upgrades as well. Last year, BankWork$ placed 75% of its graduates with partner banks, including Bank of America, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo. Click here to see their upcoming class schedule as well as application information. If your city isn’t currently included, check out other Federal Employment Training Program options in your state and stay tuned for future updates from BankWork$ as they continue to add new sites around the country.

Written by guest blogger Carrie Thiele.

Targeting Growing Industries as a Job Developer

Are you looking to connect with potential employers in fast-growing fields? Here are two online resources to help you make new connections and diversify your pool of job leads.

  1. CareerOneStop lists the 50 fastest-growing industries in the U.S., and that list might spark some ideas for you in looking up industry-specific employers in your area with the Business Finder, which includes contact information for some 12 million businesses. It’s quick and easy to use!
  2. Join LinkedIn “groups” related to the growing field you’d like to explore for potential job openings. Joining a group connects you with numerous employers that you can message personally to set up in-person introductions. Here’s how:
    • Search for industry groups by typing in the name of an employment field the “search” bar at the top left of linkedin.com. A quick search of “healthcare,” for example, returned results such as a “Healthcare Industry Professionals” group with nearly 100,000 members.
    • Click on one of the group names you’re interested in; then click “request to join” on the right side of the page.
    • Once the administrator has approved your request, you can click on the group to access a list of members. Send private messages to set up informational interviews that can help you land a new employer!

What are some other ways you’ve found to successfully diversity your network of employers? Let us know at information@higheradvantage.org

Written by guest blogger Carrie Thiele.

 

3 Tools to Help Identify Your Clients’ Skills

The urgent need for qualified employees in fast-growing fields is shifting employer’s priorities from requiring specific credentials toward identifying in-demand skills. This is beneficial for our clients, who often have the skills required for jobs but do not have U.S. credentials upon arrival. Here are three tools that can help you identify your clients’ skills:

These resources are all linked under the job seekers’ page at Skillful, a web-based initiative that aims to align people looking for work, training programs, and career coaches with the specific skills heavily needed by employers.

This post was written by Guest Blogger, Carrie Thiele.

Farewell post from Daniel Wilkinson

Dear Higher Network,

On August 21st I transitioned out of Higher and into a new role at LIRS, in which I’ll be managing a corporate partnership focused on creating sustainable career opportunities for refugees.

It has been a fantastic 2 years with Higher, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to support you in the critically important work that you do in helping refugees become self-sufficient and pursue their dreams.

While I am excited for my new role and the new opportunities that it will give me to support the career paths and community integration of refugees, I will miss being part of Higher, and wanted leave you with a few parting thoughts:

-Never underestimate the value of connecting and collaborating with your peers. We hear again and again from attendees at our events that while the training we provide is extremely helpful, the most valuable thing people get out of being connected to Higher is the opportunity to connect with peers. This has been true for me too! The opportunity to get to know many of you has added a lot of depth to my expertise in refugee employment. Thank you!

-Don’t let short-term discouragements get you down. It’s easy to be discouraged in the work that we do and wonder if we are really making a difference. Keep in mind though that refugee employment is like gardening- if you keep doing the right things, the garden will eventually grow. So keep showing up, keep providing excellent services for your clients, and I promise you that the harvest will come. It won’t be long before you have some amazing success stories to tell (on the Higher blog of course)!

-There are ALWAYS opportunities! Our work can be a roller-coaster. Funding levels, arrival numbers, refugee populations and the economy will always be changing. I started my career in refugee employment in 2010 during the Great Recession but chose to ignore the bad news on TV and believe that America is in fact “the land of opportunity.” This positive attitude and a commitment to creativity in my approach to finding opportunities for myself and my clients has always served me well. There will always be challenges to overcome. The good news is that we are experts in overcoming challenges. That’s what we help our clients do every day!

So keep your head up, keep that smile on, and keep those business cards in your pocket! The best is yet to come. I believe that!

On a final note, if you have a passion for refugee work, employment services experience, and writing/tech skills, I would really encourage you to apply for my former position. You can find the job description for the Network Engagement Specialist position here.

Thanks again for a great 2 years!

All the best,

Daniel Wilkinson

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.

“Why I Love What I Do”

Dallas Refugee Employment Staff on What Keeps Them Going

Happy Monday! At a recent Higher workshop in Dallas, TX (which we highlighted in last Monday’s post) we asked the participants to share one reason why they love working in refugee employment services.

Here are a few of our favorite answers:

  • Every day we make a difference in our client’s lives
  • Waking up every day and working with people from all over the world
  • Working with coworkers who are like family and are passionate about the work that we do
  • Getting to watch the process of refugees going from knowing nothing [about life in the US], to getting jobs, paying taxes, starting businesses, and becoming citizens
  • As a former refugee, I do this work to give back
  • Seeing clients come back after a couple years and seeing how they are succeeding
  • Making great connections between clients and employers
  • Through empowering our clients it empowers me
  • Everything I do for my clients contributes to this great nation

We hope these reflections from your colleagues in Dallas will be a positive way to start your week!

What inspires you to do work with refugees? Let us know in the comments section!

Job Readiness Instructors from several Dallas and Fort Worth agencies participate in an activity during Higher’s workshop on April 6, 2017.

Higher Texas Workshops Recap

Last month Higher was in Texas where we conducted 1-day workshops in both Houston and Dallas. In each location we brought together employment staff and resettlement directors representing 12 local resettlement offices from 6 of the 9 national resettlement agencies. The workshops were full of interactive activities focused on best practices in refugee employment, local collaboration, and strategies for success at a time when many refugee resettlement offices and employment teams are going through significant changes.

As is the case with all Higher events, we walked away inspired by the dedication and commitment that refugee employment staff bring to their work and the resiliency and creativity that the staff we interacted with in Texas are applying to their current challenges. We were also encouraged to hear about the outpouring of support that programs are experiencing both from surrounding communities and employers.

Thanks to all of the staff who participated in our workshops in Texas! You have provided us with valuable insight into your work which will inform our technical assistance activities for the next several months.

Here are some photos from the events:

Omar Al Sammarraie, a Job Developer at Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, contributes his thoughts to an activity highlighting current challenges and opportunities in refugee employment.

 

Andre Shango, a Job Developer at Catholic Charities in Houston, reports out for his group on our activity discussing the elements of successful refugee employment programs.

 

Job Developers from Dallas and Fort Worth, TX

Job Opening at Catholic Charities in Fredericksburg, VA

Do you have refugee resettlement experience and are looking to take the next step in your refugee employment career? Laurel Collins at Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington asked Higher to share this job description with our amazing network. If you have experience and want to be the next Program Manager, Fredericksburg Migration and Refugee Services please consider applying. 

 

To see the full job description and to apply for this position, click here!