Simple Strategies to Address Common Barriers, Part 4

digital literacy 1At 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 Limited English Proficiency (LEP) challengestips for overcoming transportation challenges and tips for overcoming childcare challenges. This week we’ll share a few tips on overcoming the barrier of Computer Access/Digital Literacy.

Tips for Overcoming Computer Access/Digital Literacy Challenges:

  1. Connect clients to local computer labs and/or digital literacy training opportunities. Suggested Resource: The Literacy Directory lists free resources to help adult students reach life goals in areas such as improving reading, math, and science skills, learning English, building job and job search skills, becoming a U.S. citizen, and finding adult education, child, family, and digital literacy programs.
  2. Help clients access low-cost computers. Suggested Resource: EveryoneON is a national nonprofit working to eliminate the digital divide by making high-speed, low-cost Internet service and computers, and free digital literacy courses accessible to all unconnected Americans. A true digital literacy initiative, they aim to leverage the democratizing power of the Internet to provide opportunity to all Americans – regardless of age, race, geography, income, or education level. Let’s help them do this!
  3. Educate clients about affordable internet options. Suggested Resource: ConnectHome is a public-private collaboration to narrow the digital divide for families with school-age children who live in HUD-assisted housing. ConnectHome is the next step in President Obama’s continued efforts to bring affordable broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and electronic devices to all Americans.
  4. Utilize interns and/or volunteers to help clients improve their computer skills. Suggested Resource: is a collection of self-directed tutorials for end-users to increase their digital literacy, and a community of practice for digital literacy trainers to share resources, tools and best practices.
  5. Encourage your clients to work with you on this challenge, asking them to network within their community to explore solutions.

Stay tuned for more tips from MD refugee employment programs and stakeholders. The final part in this series will address unrealistic client expectations.

Do you recommend any additional digital literacy resources? Feel free to participate in the conversation by leaving a comment below or sending us an email at

Friday Feature: Free Download of New Music

NPR SXSW Download

Photo credit: Phiseksit

Another post honoring our social worker colleagues during Social Work Month.

Music.  Listen at your desk to block out distractions and improve concentration. Enjoy it as a form of self-care and stress management. Appreciate that every culture in our world uses it to inspire, comfort and entertain. It’s a powerful connector.

However music resonates for you, check out 100 free downloads of songs heard last week at SXSW via NPR. Accept it as a token of appreciation for the work you do every day from Higher.



How Self Disclosure Can Boost Client Outcomes

Throwback Thursday: a classic Higher blog post that covers the fundamentals of our work.

March is Social Work Month. The principles, techniques and philosophy behind human services deepen the impact of our work on refugee self sufficiency.

If you’re lucky enough to have a professionally trained social worker on your team, you already know about this phenomenal resource. If you don’t, enjoy our multi-post tribute to the expertise our social worker colleagues bring to our work.

Self Disclosure: What, When and How?


New to Refugee Employment? (Or Not.) Peer Support is Important.

Ever feel like noone gets what you do?  Wish you could hear from someone else doing this work?  Take two minutes to give yourself a quick dose of peer support.

Laura Pugliano, Lutheran Family Services in Lancaster, PA talks about her first year in refugee employment.  You’ll appreciate how much Laura’s experience captures the diversity, pace and sastifaction in what we all do.

7 Tips for New Supervisors

On-goScreen Shot 2016-03-20 at 6.23.26 PMing changes and growth in U.S. refugee resettlement makes effective supervision even more important.  Anticipated increases in Matching Grant slots and the annual arrival ceiling seem likely to create opportunities for career advancement.

A recent article from Boyer Management Group offers 7 basics to keep in mind if you are – or hope to become – a supervisor.  They are equally helpful to know for those who receive supervision.

One of the most helpful aspects of the article is a focus on supervisors promoted from within the team they will be managing.

Here are key takeaways from the article:

Trust is important and it goes both ways.  Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 6.24.11 PM

Your staff won’t trust you if you don’t trust them. Your former colleagues are also learning how you fit into a new role on the team. Create a safe space for everyone to develop mutual confidence and respect.

Don’t assume you know all the answers because you did your former job well.  

Listen to your team.  Ask them for input. Don’t expect everyone to do exactly the same things you did.  Don’t start by declaring what you will change before gathering ideas and information.

Here’s additional advice for new supervisors from 120 of your peers so you have even more expert input to consider.

Establish clear objectives and expectations and avoid micro-management.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 6.24.47 PMProvide clear objectives and expectations. Develop them with team input. Then, empower your staff to implement their part of  your work.

This doesn’t mean that you stop paying attention. It does mean that you let go of some of the details. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review provides simple, detailed descriptions of micro-management.

Footnote: The three images in this post are from Dilbert, an American comic strip by Scott Adams. The strip is known for its satirical office humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office.

Reader Question: How Do You Portray Unique Refugee Experience on a Resume?

James Dean

Ok, so this isn’t Nate, but he’s almost as cool!

Nate Weigel, Employment Coordinator at World Relief Tri-Cities is looking for advice about creating effective client resumes.

Obviously resumes are an important aspect of the American employment process, but clients often lack traditional U.S. work experience. This can make it difficult to create a competitive resume.

Are there ways we can use the unique refugee experience as an asset to make their resume stand out?  What experience can you offer that doesn’t just omit relevant experience on a resume because it’s unconventional?

This is a great question, and one that we’ve been asked before.  If you have any advice for Nate, please comment on this post or send us your suggestions and resources so that we can compile your feedback in a future blog post.

Reader Question: Do You Have Employment Volunteer Training Materials?

Jennifer Barischoff has worked in refugee resettlement for more than 8 years, including work with IRC and Catholic Charitites.

Jenny Barischoff has worked in refugee resettlement for more than 8 years, including work with IRC and Catholic Charitites.

Jenny Barischoff is starting a new refugee resettlement site in Salem, Oregon as a branch office of Catholic Charities Oregon in Portland.  Volunteers are going to be especially important as she builds community awareness and starts with a very small staff.

She’ll recruit volunteers specifically to help with employment and is looking for curriculum and other materials already available.  There’s a lot out there for general volunteer training, but less that is specific to employment.

Please send your suggestions and resources to help Jenny launch the first refugee resettlement program in Salem!

4 New Years Resolutions for Better Client Services

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 8.34.50 PMNow is a good time to get a bit more organized to start the new year.

Recent research shows that the state of your workspace has an impact on concentration and efficiency.

Here are four resolutions you should keep. (Never mind those other ones if you even bothered to make them.)


1.  Catch up on filing. (Not to mention case notes!)

2.  Move five things on your desk into a drawer. (Piles of scribbled sticky notes equal one thing.)

3.  Remove all outdated client resource flyers and materials from your cube wall. (Be a hero.  Do the same in client common areas.)

4.  Add something new to your refugee employment practice. (Think new community referral source or potential employer.)

5 Ideas to Stay Productive At Work During the Holidays


Let Higher help you do better than this!

Of course, there’s plenty of work to do, but if you’re feeling distracted, here are five quick ideas to keep yourself productive and entertained whle you’re working over the holidays.

1.  Hang out on social media.  Share your favorite Higher blog post.  Polish your LinkedIn profile.  Follow employers you want to target in the new year.

2. Listen to some music at your desk.  Heavy metal from SyriaClassic country from BurmaRap from Afghanistan. 

3. Organize an office potluck.  No turkey or cranberries!  Check out recipe ideas from Flavors from Home or Good and Cheap

4. Find fresh inspiration from refugee stories. Hear from Abdi (Somalia) or Clemantine (Rwanda)

5.  Watch refugee videos you can use to freshen up your job readiness class Interview adviceCareer Paths.  English and Other Life Skills

Thanksgiving: A U.S. Tradition for Refugees

tgivingMany of our agencies organize special Thanksgiving celebrations to celebrate with refugees all that they bring to our country and the many benefits we all enjoy all year.  You can click on three links – here, here and here – to read about a few examples.

Thanksgiving may be a U.S. holiday tradition, but feeling and expressing gratitude is universal.

One Somali way to express thanks is to “touch the shoulder” of someone you want to show respect and appreciation.  Today, I touch all of your shoulders for your commitment to our work and, to all refugees, for all they bring to their new U.S. communities.

Higher’s blog will begin again on Monday.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone.