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.

DOL Training Announcement: WIOA Youth Eligibility Live Question and Answer Session

Register Now

The Department of Labor presents the “Our Journey Together TA Series.” This training will include a review of the eligibility portion of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Youth Final Rule webinar and a live questions and answers session on WIOA youth eligibility through the webinar platform chat feature.

One of the most common topics which we receive questions on is WIOA youth eligibility.  This is not surprising as the eligibility requirements are fairly complex. We will replay the WIOA youth eligibility portion of the WIOA Youth Final rule previously recorded webinar as a refresher on WIOA youth eligibility and will provide an opportunity for live questions and answers on all issues related to WIOA youth eligibility.  Come prepared with all of your eligibility questions.

WIOA Youth Eligibility Live Question and Answer Session

Presenter(s): Evan Rosenberg, Division of Youth Services, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Moderator(s): Sara Hastings, Division of Youth Services, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Time: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM ET

**Registration for this event is limited and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis; please register today.**

Register Now

 

 

Donated Bikes Pave the Way to Jobs in Tucson

Cars, bikes and buses – oh my! Transportation is a common challenge for newly-arrived refugees, but you might find some inspiration from Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest in Tucson (LSS-SW) and their strategy for using donated bikes to help clients get to work.

LSS-SW provides 1-2 bicycles per client household with employable adults, thanks to partnerships with Wheels for Kids and local Boy Scout drives. Both partnering organizations have provided donated, refurbished adult and child bikes.

“We’ve seen clients who are able to work that might not have otherwise been able to.” Since several of Tucson’s bus lines have limited hours of operation, “many of our clients working at hotels have to find another way to get home,” says Kyle Dignoti, LSS-SW Resource and Pre-arrival Coordinator. “Having the opportunity to use a bike has really impacted their mobility.”

Bikes are never given to clients without appropriate safety equipment, including a helmet, rope lock, and brake lights. Safety information is reviewed one-on- one with each recipient, and bicycle safety classes are available through Pima County.

Once a client has a bike, maintenance can be a challenge, but BICAS (Bicycle Inter Community Art and Salvage) in Tucson helps overcome that hurdle by training clients how to fix their bicycles. Clients are able to keep their bikes running and know how to perform basic fixes on their own.

If you have a car or bike donation program in place, we’d love to hear about at it at information@higheradvantage.org. Haven’t found a community partner to help develop these resources yet? Start by googling terms like “donated bikes” or “bike classes” and see who is in your area – you might be surprised how easy it is to find great local partners!

 

 

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.

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.

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: Post-Employment Services and Strategies for TANF Programs

August 2, 2017, 1:00 – 2:00 PM EST 

Post-employment services that align with individual’s interests, strengths, and abilities are necessary to ensure they can maintain or advance in employment. Unfortunately, many TANF participants tend to obtain low-skill/low-wage jobs with little room for advancement and can experience difficulty retaining jobs.

TANF programs strive to address this issue by offering a variety of post-employment education, training, and supportive services designed to help TANF families sustain long-term livable wage employment and occupational advancement. Given the significant flexibility TANF programs have in the type of post-employment support offered, these services vary across states and programs, depending on the needs of TANF participants.

This interactive webinar will highlight how TANF programs continue to support TANF participants post-employment through a variety of approaches.

Register here.