From Engineering to Education: How Betzabeth Built A New Career in the U.S.
Thursday | February 2, 2023 | by WES Advisor
Betzabeth worked as an engineer in Venezuela’s expansive petroleum sector. But the country’s growing political instability forced Betzabeth and her husband Felix, a fellow energy engineer, to seek asylum in the United States. With support from WES Global Talent Bridge partners Venezuelans and Immigrants Aid (VIA) and International Rescue Committee (IRC), Betzabeth has accessed a pathway to a satisfying role in a new sector—early childhood education—but still cherishes a goal of returning to engineering in the future.
“I come from a family of engineers – both of my parents and many of my aunts and uncles are engineers. It’s a very technical field, but I’m passionate about it.”
Betzabeth Guillén spent five and a half years completing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in Venezuela—and another eight years working in the country’s petroleum industry. She married a fellow engineer, continuing her family’s tradition in the field. But growing political instability in Venezuela forced Betzabeth and Felix to flee the country. They landed in New York City in 2017, grateful for the opportunity to seek asylum and receive work authorization. Yet they soon realized that the move would likely cost them their careers.
“You find yourself in a country where you can’t speak your language,” Betzabeth said. “I’ve been working to improve my English for the past three years. I can now understand what I hear, and I respond with short phrases. I can make myself understood when I speak, but it’s still very difficult.”
Systemic factors including language barriers, limited recognition of credentials earned in other countries, and uneven access to other workforce development opportunities drive the unemployment of an estimated two million college-educated immigrants and refugees in the United States. Sixty percent are internationally trained professionals like Betzabeth and her husband.
“The prospect of returning to engineering is difficult. Language is the biggest barrier that I have, but I’ve also been told that I need to update a lot of my design certifications, even though they’re the same programs that I worked with in Venezuela. It’s also been difficult to make connections with other people in the field to grow a professional network,” Betzabeth explained.
In 2019, the birth of the couple’s first child gave Betzabeth a welcome new project to focus on while determining the next steps in her career. She stayed home with the baby and studied English while her husband, similarly unable to reestablish his engineering career, found work in construction to support the family.
The following year, a connection with Venezuelans and Immigrants Aid (VIA), a WES Global Talent Bridge partner that supports asylum seekers and other displaced Venezuelans in New York, would open new possibilities. VIA referred Betzabeth to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global humanitarian relief organization with an office in New York City that offers workforce development and training programs to displaced persons. IRC helped Betzabeth connect with a career pathway in early childhood education, a high-demand field where her growing bilingual skills would be an asset.
As part of a cohort of students at IRC, she studied child development and completed a certificate in childcare. Betzabeth now works as a bilingual assistant teacher in an early childhood development center in Brooklyn. She cares for infants, and her son participates in the center’s pre-K program in the next room.
“Working with children reminds me of how amazing and exciting the world can be. Children encourage me to use my imagination and find new and creative ways to do things. And I can be close to my son every day—it makes me very happy,” she said.
Betzabeth has found a new professional calling that serves both her community and her family. With recent news that both her and her husband’s asylum cases have been approved, she is now eager to put down more permanent roots in the U.S. Still passionate about engineering, she holds on to a long-term goal of returning to the field.
“I’m happy in my current role but don’t want to leave behind all the years I spent earning my engineering degree and building my career. I’m still interested in energy, especially green energy,” she said.
Betzabeth recently completed a certification in solar panel installation, part of a growing field that she hopes might one day offer her an opportunity to launch her own business.
“I appreciate every single person who has helped me achieve my goals,” she said.
Venezuelan and Immigrants Aid is a participant in Global Talent Leadership Network (GTLN), an initiative of WES Global Talent Bridge; IRC is a partner of the WES Gateway Program. Learn more via the WES Global Talent Bridge U.S. Program Map, a directory of more than 100 programs and services that foster the economic and professional development of internationally trained immigrants and refugees.