New Year, New Focus

As the refugee resettlement world starts a new fiscal year, you may be wondering how to refocus some of your energy, particularly if you are seeing a smaller case load. The Refugee Employment Services (RES) team at the YMCA International Services Center in Houston, TX, has started refining their services and refocusing goals for the upcoming year after experiencing a significant decline in the number of clients. Joanne Pantaleon Torres, Employment Services Director, shares several ways they are customizing and strengthening their employment services and community partnerships, including:  

  1. Providing higher-quality job placements. Joanne’s team is applying more time and energy to find individual solutions to client barriers. Fewer clients mean employment case managers spend more time getting to know each client, understanding their unique situation and goals, and making better job matches.

YMCA International Services Refugee Employment Services Team

The YMCA International Services Center is also implementing a more assertive approach to employer prospecting. Engaging a front desk volunteer who doesn’t mind making cold calls to new businesses is resulting in higher-paying job leads. Employment specialists are researching online job openings with current employers to find positions that require additional skills, pay better, or have more advancement opportunities that go beyond “typical” placements.

  1. Rethinking vocational training. In FY2016, YMCA International Services Center moved the Vocational Training Program in-house by hiring a full-time Vocational Training Liaison who screens potential training participants, reviews their background experience, and makes recommendations for trainings. Previously, the RES team referred clients to a refugee services office at partnering organization Houston Community College (HCC). HCC continues to be a preferred vocational training partner for YMCA, and together they are working on solutions to provide continued learning opportunities that accommodate clients’ work schedules. For example, they recently piloted bilingual HVAC and welding classes on the weekends for Spanish-speaking clients. It’s been successful so far—there was a 100% successful completion rate among their first weekend welding cohort!

 

  1. Connecting with more Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) opportunities. Referring clients to a new Vocational English as a Second Language (VESL) program has been a highlight of the past year, and the RES team is looking for ways to expand these resources. The Bilingual Education Institute, a network partner of the YMCA, is offering VESL classes onsite at two hotels where several YMCA clients work. The RES team is also exploring a new partnership with Houston Center for Literacy’s “English at Work” program in upcoming months to incorporate into services offered to employed clients. YMCA International Services has observed an increased commitment from clients in these classes vs. traditional ESL classes. In addition being conveniently located and scheduled, Joanne points out that, “participants are more likely to stay in the class and learn when it’s connected to their job.”

What are your team’s priorities for the coming year? We’d love to hear your thoughts at information@higheradvantage.org.

Want a well-paying job with benefits for your clients? Consider apprenticeships!

According to experts on National Public Radio’s (WAMU 88.5) program that originally aired on June 12th titled How To Earn Six Figures Without A Four-Year Degree, by 2025 there will be two million jobs needing skilled labor that will go unfilled if today’s labor market conditions hold. The program featured four experts from different backgrounds who discussed the merits of apprenticeship job training over more traditional forms of education.

The takeaway for you:

  • Many jobs do not require four year college degrees and pay middle income wages, including some in the six figures
  • Many positions are most easily accessed via apprenticeships

What is an apprenticeship?

  1. It is typically a three to four year training program where you are learning the building blocks of a specific job, leading to mastery in an occupational area and professional certification that travels with you. Some apprenticeships are for a set amount of time, while others are competency-based, allowing apprentices to complete their training as fast as their aptitude allows.
  2. You are working and getting paid while also completing academic coursework that is tailored to the position and provides a foundational and conceptual framework.
  3. You are learning under direct supervision of a skilled expert.
  4. You are training to take an available job with that same company.

Apprenticeships have been around for centuries but in the last century they lost favor as the four-year college experience was increasingly sought after and promoted by parents and school guidance counselors. This trend appears to be reversing however. Factors including an aging American workforce, the career preferences of younger American workers, and the emergence of new technologies requiring specialized skills have all contributed to an ever-increasing gap between available jobs and good candidates for those jobs. As a result, there is a renewed interest in apprenticeships as a strategy for incentivizing workers and filling labor shortages.

Panelist Robert Lerman, a Fellow at the Urban Institute and a founder of the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship, discussed the difficulty of the school-based-only approach for some young people.  Courses in a four-year degree program do not always feature relevant, skill-based learning, so why spend the time and money? To illustrate this point the program spoke with Cory McCray, a current Delegate in the Maryland House of Representatives and former electrician who completed an apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. As an apprentice in the construction trade McCray did not assume the levels of debt accrued by his peers who went to four-year colleges because he had fewer classes and completed paid work as part of his training. He argues that the academic coursework he did have was motivating because it led to a quality performance on the job.

Other panelists spoke about the challenges of making an informed decision about a career path without some significant exposure in the workplace. For example, businesses in the tech industry find that hands-on workplace learning is essential to helping staff gain mastery in their field. Ken Hitchcock, Director of the Pickens County Career and Technology Center in Liberty, South Carolina stated that many apprenticeships provide additional support to those that believe they have poor math abilities or those that need English language support by providing remedial classes.

In what industries are apprenticeships located?

According to guest Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, there are lots of opportunities in a variety of industries: manufacturing, IT (including cyber security), health, finance, aeronautics, mechanics, electronics, culinary arts, and construction.

Finding national and state registered apprenticeship programs in your area.

Check with your Workforce Development Board for the resources in your community. As an example, check out this great resource produced by the Oakland County Workforce Development agency in Michigan and provided by Jennifer Llewellyn, Manager of the agency.

You will find general and location-specific information on apprenticeships here at the Department of Labor Apprenticeship USA website.

So let’s get to work for our clients of all ages!

Additional Resources                                                      

See previous blog post on apprenticeships from Higher:

http://www.higheradvantage.org/workforce-resource-registered-apprenticeship/

National Apprenticeship Week is November 13-19

https://www.dol.gov/apprenticeship/NAW/

This post is written by Guest Blogger Alicia Wrenn, Assistant Director of Integration at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Does your agency utilize apprenticeships for clients? If, yes please let Higher know by writing us at information@higheradvantage.org.

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.

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.

Higher Job Development Webinar, September 20, 2:00-3:30 PM EST

Higher Job Development Webinar, September 20, 2:00-3:30 PM EST

Leveraging First Placements: How to be Strategic with Entry Level Jobs

Refugees arriving in the U.S. need to begin working as soon as possible. Our job as refugee employment professionals is to make that happen. While a refugee’s first job will rarely be their “dream job”, there are ways to leverage the first placement so that it becomes the first step on a career ladder, rather than a “dead-end job. There are also ways to ensure employers see refugees as employees worthy of long-term investment, rather than short-term labor solutions.

Join Higher’ s Nicole Redford and front-line refugee employment practitioners for a webinar that will present strategies for finding and landing employers who will offer not just a first job but a first step on a career-ladder.  Guest speakers include Hilary Lucas of Catholic Charities of Cleveland and Lindsey Saultz of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains.

To register please click here.

 

Workforce Collaborative Brings Together Local Service Providers to Enhance Refugee Work Readiness

When looking at ways to enhance your job readiness training or employment placement, has your agency tried looking into existing community organizations doing similar work?

Local collaboration can mean more than working with other refugee agencies. Collaboration and partnership with other nonprofits in your community doing similar work can maximize the benefits of your employment programs. Like using a bank to teach your financial literacy courses. Looking to other nonprofits who are doing job development or job readiness courses is a great way to further develop opportunities for your clients.

This week, guest blogger Elizabeth Ringler shares an example from Pennsylvania.

A workforce collaborative in Pittsburgh, Pa has launched a new initiative to enhance refugee work readiness through targeted training. The collaborative includes the Career Development Center at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which is a resettlement agency, and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council.  Together, the two organizations serve large numbers of refugees and immigrants in Allegheny County, Pa. This collaboration was made possible through the All for All Immigrant Workforce Initiative organized by the City of Pittsburgh.

Refugees participating in the program meet twice a week to learn job readiness skills including how to look for a job, resume writing, interview preparation, and networking skills. The program also offers opportunities to enhance participants’ computer literacy and workforce specific English language skills. Additionally, the program offers on-site childcare for participants.

“This program aims to teach immigrants about the American job search process and work culture, and supports each individual in developing a job search strategy that meets their needs and leads to long term career success. By working with regional employers, we hope to showcase the important role and economic value immigrants have in Pittsburgh,” says Career Development Center Director Sarah Welch.

To learn more about the All for All Immigrant Workforce Initiative, contact Iris Valanti, Public Relations Associate, Jewish Family & Children’s Service Email: ivalanti@jfcspgh.org

If your agency does a similar event please write to us at information@higheradvantage.org to share your story.

A More Interactive Approach for Job Readiness Class

The infographic below contains several tips when designing your job club curriculum. Best courses for refugee learners should not only include more interactivity, but aim for greater retention.  The current best practice is to introduce new material in 20 minute chunks. This does not mean job readiness classes need to be short, rather the lesson should be designed to reinforce those main ideas and core concepts.

For example, when teaching workers’ rights, you teach the right to a work place free from discrimination. Give real life examples of what discrimination looks like and share a story of a client who experienced discrimination. Then ask the group if they have ever experienced discrimination.

To give another example, when preparing clients for job interviews, you could do a lesson on hygiene and appropriate clothes to wear and then give clients 5 minutes to pick out a perfect interview outfit from a pile of clothes.

What have you found works best for your clients? Tell us your job readiness success stories or contact us for help on how to design a great curriculum. Email us at information@higheradvantage.org.

 

 

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.

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.

 

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!