Integrating New Americans into the workforce
Monday, June 26, 2017
As fertility rates decline and Baby Boomers age and retire, the U.S. workforce is starting to shrink. Historically, evidence has shown the more people in the workforce; the more goods and services are produced. This reduction of the labor pool is expected to present significant challenges to the economy in the future.
A recent report from the University of Minnesota, “Immigrants and Minnesota’s Workforce,” asserts recent immigrants are uniquely positioned to fill gaps in the workforce. But integrating immigrants into the workforce can be tricky.
Moorhead and Fargo have become popular cities for secondary migration of families that initially settled elsewhere in the U.S. A large proportion of these immigrants are refugees fleeing countries in East Africa or the Middle East due to political or religious persecution. They face cultural and language barriers and require social services while they’re settling into their new homes.
Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program’s “New Americans” program was designed to ease this transition and enable new immigrants to become self-sufficient.
“The idea is to help assimilate them into a work-based culture. To help them obtain education and a driver’s license — to stabilize their home life so that they’re no longer a part of the social services system,” says Craig Nathan, RMCEP director of field operations.
RMCEP staff is working in concert with area service providers such as Lutheran Social Services and Clay County Social Services to illuminate the challenges faced by this new population of immigrants. Community listening sessions are also helping to improve understanding. The goal is to identify gaps in services and develop a regional plan of action to solve problems.
“As a whole, we’ve identified a continued need for services around New Americans in Moorhead and Fargo. Since we share a border, our cities are working together to address this issue,” says Theresa Hazemann, team leader at RMCEP. “More and more people are stepping up to the plate to see what can we do to integrate and provide resources for the community.”
Not speaking English is one of the primary obstacles New Americans face. It affects every aspect of their lives, from finding a job to securing housing. Some immigrants are highly educated professionals but they’re not able to get jobs in the fields they were trained in because their credentials aren’t recognized in the United States. RMCEP has worked with individuals to help them get the additional skills or credits needed to transfer degrees.
RMCEP has also teamed up with the Afro American Development Association (AADA) on a pilot project focused on financial literacy. The goal is to teach practical skills related to money management, such as how to balance a budget and pay bills.
A community partnership consisting of RMCEP, AADA, the Moorhead Business Association, Adult Basic Education and Job Service North Dakota developed and hosted a successful New Americans Job Fair, which will be held biannually.
The fairs, hosted by a local church, aim to connect people with available jobs in areas such as retail, hospitality, transportation, construction and healthcare. The fairs are meant to impart essentials, such as proper work attire, employer expectations and how to use public transportation. Attendees also learn how to interview and fill out a job application.
Hazemann says RMCEP is starting to think about how it can play a larger role in educating employers. She stresses the fairs aren’t just for immigrants — they offer an educational component that helps employers learn about New Americans as employees. In some cultures, for instance, people may take breaks during the day for prayer. Navigating this cultural difference and making potential concessions in the workplace to allow this practice can help employees and employers find success.
Several companies are benefitting from the labor of this new population. Companies such as Cardinal IG and the Pallet Company report New Americans make up 65 and 85 percent of their workforces, respectively. Manufacturers aren’t the only ones showing an increase in New Americans as part of the labor force. Sanford Health Care Systems is also increasing their employee base with New Americans.
“New Americans make up an important part of the workforce in a labor market that is experiencing a shortage of help. Employers around here are starting to understand that,” says Hazemann.