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Credentials to Support the Skilled Immigrant Workforce

Monday | November 7, 2016 | by WES Global Talent Bridge

Group of pharmacists working in a pharmacy. Focus is on foreground, on a African American female pharmacist holding boxes of medicine.

Skilled immigrants bring great value to the American workforce. However, immigrants who earn an education abroad and later move to the U.S. often find themselves having to work minimum wage “survival jobs” to support themselves.

According to IMPRINT, those who received an education in the U.S. were more likely to be employed and successful in the U.S. than those who had only earned their education from abroad.

A recent webinar co-hosted by WES Global Talent Bridge and IMPRINT, “Made In America – Credentials to Support the Skilled Immigrant Workforce,” discussed how credentials earned in the U.S. can help immigrant professionals succeed.

 Made In America - Credentials to Support the Skilled Immigrant Workforce

Although an education earned abroad is valuable, earning credentials in the U.S. can help skilled immigrants bridge any gaps that may exist in their background—from language to culture to technical skills—and help them find success in the American workforce. Read on to discover how some institutions are implementing programs to help skilled immigrants earn “made in America” credentials.

Community Colleges

A community college can provide services that are well-suited to foreign-educated immigrants. Taking a handful of community college courses, earning a certificate, or earning a short-term credential can help immigrants build layers of experience and help position them to successfully enter the American workforce—even if they already have a four-year degree.

Community colleges can also offer career pathways because they are deeply rooted in their communities, and provide access to referrals and job opportunities for foreign-educated immigrants.

Example: Portland Community College – ABS Career Pathways: Portland Community College created a program called Adult Basic Skills (ABS) Career Pathways. The program provides stackable, short-term credentials in various fields of study. It also permits ESL students to take credit Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses while they are enrolled in an academic
support course.

The model of this program helps students quickly earn industry-recognized master’s level academic, language, and job skills. Students benefit from a diverse learning environment, career coaches who understand their specific challenges and strengths, and the opportunity to align their skills with American employer needs.

From 2011-2015, 82 percent of students in the program completed their career pathway credential, with 88 percent continuing their education and/or going on to work.

Success Story: Fidel immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Because he did not have the American credentials to be an engineer, he had to work in the meatpacking department of his local supermarket.

To increase his skills, Fidel co-enrolled in ESL and computer and technology courses at Westchester Community College. There he received his associate’s degree in civil technology and went on to work for a small construction management firm, and eventually earned his master’s in engineering at The City University of New York.

Fidel was able to be successful because he had supportive ESL and academic course instructors, engaged in classroom discussions, familiarized himself with American culture, and had access to community college services such as the Welcome Center, orientation sessions, and career advising. He also used every opportunity to speak English by engaging with other students, faculty, and administrators both in and outside the classroom.

Training Programs

There are many different types of training programs out there that are aimed at helping skilled immigrants acquire the specific techniques and skills they need in their field to have a successful career in the U.S. Training programs make it easier for skilled immigrants to overcome employment barriers and can help them integrate into the U.S. workforce as professionals in their field of study.

Example: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art: Cooper Union’s Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers (RPIE) formed in the early 1990s in an effort to help skilled engineers and scientists from the former Soviet Union find American jobs that required skills. Since its conception, the RPIE has expanded to include international students from countries all over the world.

The program provides free specialized training courses, with an emphasis placed on American standards and practices to prepare skilled engineers for entry into highly sought after jobs. Students typically take two to three courses over a 10-month period, which are taught by experts in their respective fields, who also serve as mentors to the students. Students can also participate in workshops to develop their interview and résumé writing skills.

Cooper Union also partners with CAMBA, a non-profit agency that connects people with opportunities, which helps provide students of the RPIE with job services and even placement at companies.

Success Story: Mr. O. was an electrical engineer from Nigeria, who previously worked in the oil and gas industry before arriving in New York City. Unfortunately, because he lacked certain skills necessary to work as an engineer in the U.S., and also because New York City did not have many jobs in oil and gas, Mr. O had to take a job working as a baggage handler at an airport, where he earned only $10 an hour.

To gain U.S. job training, Mr. O. enrolled in the RPIE National Electrical Code (NEC) class. When he completed the course, he was connected to a job developer at CAMBA, who matched him with several of their employer partners. 18 months after arriving in New York City, Mr. O. accepted a job as a junior building inspector at a public housing company, where he is now earning an annual salary of $46,000.

Foreign-educated immigrants don’t have to settle for a minimum wage job in the U.S. There is a need for highly skilled workers, and a “made in America” credential can provide opportunities for immigrants to achieve career success in the U.S.

For more information: This article is based off a recent IMPRINT series, called “Steps to Success.” To go more in-depth with this and similar topics, you can access webinars, reports, and other resources on the IMPRINT website. IMPRINT is a national coalition of nonprofits helping underemployed skilled immigrants to start their American careers.

This webinar is part of a “steps-to-success” series and a follow-up to the Helping Immigrants Build Social Capital to Achieve Professional Success webinar, which discusses the importance of social capital in fostering immigrant success.

Resource: Bridging the Gap for Foreign-Educated Immigrants: A Guide for Community Colleges. Speakers discuss the role of community colleges on how to bridge those gaps both through academic and workforce training and will share success stories of students who followed the “made in America” credential and were able to rebuild their careers in the U.S.

WES Global Talent Bridge is a program dedicated to helping skilled immigrants fully utilize their talents and education in the United States and Canada. Global Talent Bridge joins with institutional partners and community organizations to help skilled immigrants leverage their training, achieve their professional goals, and contribute their talents to their full potential.