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IowaWORKS is training businesses how to hire and support refugees

Courtesy of RACI's Facebook
People sign in to Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa's annual summit to learn about how to support foreign-born communities in 2019.

Iowa Workforce Development is looking to bridge labor shortages by training businesses on how to hire refugees.

IowaWORKS partnered with local resettlement agencies to offer a three-part webinar series on how to recruit and to support foreign-born Iowans. The series, which is now available online to businesses, is part of a new initiative to focus on how to increase success for refugees within Iowa’s workplaces.

Before a business hires refugees, there are resources it should have in place, said Stephanie Moris, director at Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa. She said she’s seen more and more businesses open to hiring non-English speaking refugees.

“For a state who has a population decline and that is having an employee shortage crisis going on, for us it’s great to connect with employers who are willing now to think outside of the box,” Moris said.

 An Iowa company gives out employment information at RACI's multicultural job fair in 2018.
Courtesy of RACI Facebook
An Iowa company gives out employment information at RACI's multicultural job fair in 2018.

Moris said employers need to be innovative when it comes to addressing barriers like language and transportation for refugees. For example, she said it often helps for employers to develop on-site English Language Learning classes. Moris said hosting the class directly on the worksite helps to ensure the lessons are sustainable and accessible for all employees.

“The employer benefit is obviously pretty big too,” she said. “So they have a huge workforce, then that's able to move up.”

Moris said employers should actively support refugees in developing their skills and taking on leadership positions within companies. If companies can develop a culturally competent and supportive space, Morris said refugee populations often begin recruiting others to join.

But, the recruiting refugees needs to begin with the hiring process, said Edgar Ramirez, Iowa refugee specialist. He said even an online application can serve as a barrier for foreign-born Iowans. He said businesses should think about refugee needs as they interview applicants.

“It's not just a matter of hiring them and placing them and keeping them but now it’s becoming more of realizing that this is long term,” he said.

“The more we can get on board with making these changes, the better off that employer will be."
Drew Emerson, business marketing specialist at IowaWORKS

At Michael Foods, a food manufacturing company, senior recruiter Alex Borsay said his company has found success in bringing a translator to assist throughout the entirety of the hiring process. He said the practice has helped ensure employees are comfortable and well-trained at their jobs.

He said the Norwalk company also works to hire large groups of refugees, to try to offset some of the fears of beginning in a new position that they may have.

“So they really understand they're not going to be alone out there and that there's plenty of people they'll be able to befriend and work along with and communicate with,” Borsay said.

Workspaces should also consider how their workplace protocols may conflict with the cultures of the new arrivals. Borsay said Michael Foods adjusted their no-hat policy to accommodate many of his foreign-born employees’ religious need to wear head coverings.

“The more we can get on board with making these changes, the better off that employer will be,” said Drew Emerson, business marketing specialist at IowaWORKS. “So we just want to be able to give them the tools to start taking those things into consideration.”

Emerson said workforce assessments have consistently shown a desire from employers to tap into refugee populations. He said, in recent years, health care and direct care positions have especially been moving to adapt policies that welcome new communities.

In order to meet the demand, Ramirez said IowaWORKS will continue its collaboration with local resettlement agencies across the state to offer refugee-focused job fairs in the coming months. He said it’s just one part of the infrastructure that Iowa needs to build between its businesses and its refugees.

“Iowa has welcomed refugees for years,” Ramirez said. “But we have never really focused on refugees. This is a way on providing that spotlight.”

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.