Refugees Advance at Cardone Industries

Timothy Tran, a former refugee from Vietnam, resettled in Lancaster, Pa., when he was 21. His first job in the United States was as industrial chaplain with Cardone Industries in Philadelphia, a unique position with a company that strives to create a small-family feel among its 4,200 employees. Fifteen years later, Tran is still with Cardone, where he works as staffing coordinator, welcoming other refugees to the company that welcomed him.

Since 1970 when Cardone began remanufacturing its first automotive part—at that time a windshield wiper—the company has hired as many as 800 former refugees representing 19 different nationalities. Many employees have stayed with the company several years, working their way up the corporate ladder. “The only skill you need to get a job with us is to have a good attitude. We teach you the rest,” Tran points out. One of the company’s corporate objectives is “Help people develop,” and many refugees have benefited from this goal.

Tran is just one example of an employee who has advanced within the company. A Haitian immigrant who started in the shipping department returned to the company as a benefits specialist after completing college. Another woman, originally from Cambodia, began in the packaging department and was eventually promoted to hiring manager for human resources. In her new position, she uses her personal experience to encourage newly arrived refugees.

Cardone Industries works with all four of the local voluntary agencies to hire refugees: Catholic Social Services, LIRS affiliate Lutheran Children and Family Services (LCFS), Nationality Service Center and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. As Janet Panning, resettlement director for LCFS, recognizes, “Cardone is not only a leader in their industry, but is also a leader in their commitment to their employees. Their heart for their employees, including refugees and asylees, goes far beyond traditional employer support.” Tran agrees, “We not only give jobs, we care for the whole person.”

Cardone Industries is a remanufacturer of auto parts and a three-time winner of the Automotive Service Industries Remanufacturer of the Year Award. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company also has sites in Los Angeles, Canada and Belgium.

C&S Wholesale Grocers

Employers hear about the benefits of hiring refugees through a variety of sources: A cold call from a job developer. A speaker at a rotary meeting. A friend at church. C&S Wholesale Grocers’ introduction to the country’s refugee labor pool stemmed from a simple conversation shared during a vacation cruise.

In 2005 C&S Human Resources Recruiting Supervisor Dana Riccioni received an enthusiastic e-mail from another human resources professional in the company about a market for potential new employees. In the e-mail, Riccioni’s associate shared how she had learned about the U.S. refugee resettlement program from a fellow passenger—a Church World Service employee—while on a cruise. The conversation had prompted her to research the local resettlement agencies near C&S sites and forward their contact information to C&S staff recruiters. Taking her colleague’s tip, Riccioni, who is based in Trenton, called Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey (LSMNJ), and she discovered a pool of ambitious workers.

While LSMNJ was eager to match qualified candidates with the company’s openings, transportation was an initial barrier. The C&S locations are not accessible by public transportation. To solve this problem, the company decided to procure two vans from another C&S site, and created two new positions for drivers. For a reasonable $25 weekly fee, former refugee employees can ride to work in one of the vans. One of the drivers, Alpha Fofana, is a former refugee from Ivory Coast. Resettled in 2003 by the International Institute of New Jersey, Fofana commends the company for the opportunities they provide, “At this company everyone is so kind and willing to help you,” he says gratefully. “There are many opportunities to grow with the company. C&S is a perfect image of America because if you want to work, they help you. If you are serious about your future, you will succeed here.”

Riccioni agrees with Fofana. C&S is committed to providing advancement opportunities and promoting from within. Many employees who start in low-skill positions and move on to the more advanced positions including the company’s supervisor training program. Riccioni sees refugee workers as perfect candidates for C&S’s job upgrade opportunities. She notes, “[Refugees] come to the U.S. to work and we have the jobs to offer.”

Job Developer Vesna Smith is grateful that C&S has gone to such lengths to learn about LSMNJ’s program and hire the agency’s clients. In her words, “We really appreciate the efforts and patience of C&S. Their staff has been extremely helpful in getting our clients self-sufficient within 90 days of their arrival.” In less than a year, LSMNJ has placed more than 20 refugees at the company’s six locations in metropolitan New Jersey. C & S has also hired over fifty refugees throughout the New England area in partnership with Lutheran Social Services of West Springfield. With any luck, the company will have similar success in Staten Island, New York where another Lutheran Social Services affiliate is located.

CabinetCraft Embraces Refugees

Bill Adams was not particularly enthusiastic about hiring refugees at Cabinetcraft, a subsidiary of John Wieland Homes, when the company opened a new production plant in North Carolina in 1999. “I don’t hide the fact that I am an old country boy from the South,” Adams admits freely from his office in Charlotte, noting that he was 15 before he first met a person who wasn’t from North Carolina. “You can guess my reaction to the idea of working with people who don’t speak English. I fought it kicking and screaming the whole way.”

Nevertheless, within just six weeks of hiring his first group of refugee employees in 1999, Adams discovered a tremendous source of industrious, skilled and dedicated workers. “They were even better than [the employees] we typically found at a temporary employment agency,” he recalls. “They walk away from a lot to be in the United States, and give everything they can in their jobs. This says a lot about their muster.”

Six years later Cabinetcraft’s workforce of 50 in Charlotte includes 36 former refugees, some of whom are rapidly approaching the top of the pay scale—$17–18 an hour. Many were forced to give up professional careers as engineers, teachers and mechanics when they fled their home countries. One employee from Liberia has a master’s degree in anthropology and recently won an award in a North Carolina poetry contest.

As Cabinetcraft continues to hire new staff many of its refugee employees have stayed at the plant since its beginning. One reason is that the company offers employees career advancement opportunities. This is attractive to Linda Campbell, an employment specialist at Catholic Social Services, who has referred clients to Adams since the plant opened. “The company invests in teaching people skills they can carry with them forever. If they are teachable, they can go anywhere [in the company].” Currently, all six floor supervisors are former refugees.

Commenting on Cabinetcraft’s recruitment strategies, Adams says that he rarely looks beyond Catholic Social Services because he knows that good employees are just a phone call away. His attitude towards refugees has changed in a relatively short time. He considers many of his employees close friends, and he has a lot of respect for them. “Like most Americans, they want to better themselves and provide for their families. Now I wouldn’t let anyone take away our [refugee] employees. They are the best workers.”

Group Workshops Improve Refugee Employment Outcomes

Group workshops are an effective way to review information provided to a family post resettlement and to provide employment programming.  Several positive aspects can be achieved if the right atmosphere is developed.  First, participants can learn from one another as well as from the facilitator or caseworker leading the group.  Second, the organization can reinforce key concepts multiple times with several participants at once, thus increasing their likelihood of  understanding.  Third, major issues or concerns will be discovered quickly and addressed..

JFCS PittsburghIn addition, group workshops are a familiar format to most refugees, since they are used in the refugee camps to instruct refugee families before their arrival.  They can be used again once the families are here  to reinforce concepts for Cultural Orientation, Acculturation, and Job Readiness or Employment Programs.  The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) has posted resources for organizations that work with refugees, so curriculum is already available and simply needs to be tailored to a specific city and or local region.

Three distinct approaches to job readiness group workshops are used in Pittsburgh:

  1. Weekly Orientation to the Workplace, hosted by Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Pittsburgh (JF&CS)
  2. English Language Training by Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMS)
  3. The Refugee Career Mentoring Program (RCMP); a collaborative effort with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services that focuses on assisting refugees with advanced degrees and professional backgrounds.

JF&CS provides a weekly workshop for participants, reviewing topics most critical to job acquisition and retention.  Subjects covered include the job placement process, completing an application, interview skills, hygiene, safety at the workplace, and the proper way to call in sick and/or terminate employment.  All workshops are interpreted and PowerPoint presentations are translated into the primary language of the major population group to ensure understanding.

NAMS partnered with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Adult ESL School to provide Basic ESL and job readiness preparation on-site. The Job Readiness Program follows a set curriculum and was taught from an ESL/Adult Education framework. Each class is devoted to a special topic related to job readiness, with basic ‘soft skills’ such as time and attendance, embedded in the curriculum.

RCMP focuses on providing support to refugees with advanced degrees, and they work in collaboration with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Three Rivers Workforce Development Board, Vibrant Pittsburgh, ESL providers, and the refugee resettlement agencies in Pittsburgh.

RCMP links a refugee with a mentor in his/her field. Workshops focus on professional resume writing, networking, and job search that is specific to specific areas of professional expertise. This program provides clients a better understanding of the processes required to gain employment in their field. It also gives professionals in the Pittsburgh area an opportunity to give back to their community and to learn more about the refugee community.

Success Story contributed by Dawn Brubaker, Refugee Employment Coordinator, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh and Elizabeth Ringler, MPIA, Refugee Social Services, Job Developer, Northern Area Multi-Service Center

For more information on this promising practice, contact Elizabeth Ringler: elizabeth.ringler@namsc.com

Foreign-Trained Refugee Professionals Keep Inspiring

A lot of good things are going on in the RefugeeWorks’ Refugee Recertification Program in San Diego.

Issam, one of the original RefugeeWorks engineers was placed by Welcome Bank Center of San Diego (WBC) as a volunteer at the County of San Diego several months ago. Issam was named as the Dept. of Public Works Volunteer of the year, he was awarded this month. Issam has been working to map San Diego County flood plains.

On May 2nd, the WBC will be honoring participants who completed courses last year by awarding Certificates of Completion and State Senator Joel Anderson’s office will be presenting Certificates of Achievement to the students as well. Gail Patterson, the direct of the WBC stated, “Grossmont College and WBC staff are proud of how hard our refugee professionals have worked to achieve- it really is amazing and inspiring.”

In other news: The San Diego Scoop, a local newspaper, ran an article about refugee and immigrant foreign trained professionals in the paper and it was picked up by several of the other local papers in San Diego.