TWIN FALLS • A Boise-based nonprofit is helping refugees navigate the process of re-entering their career fields in the U.S.
Global Talent Idaho — which launched last year — began offering services in Twin Falls a couple of months ago to a few refugees. The group partners with the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center to identify newcomers.
Refugees get training on topics such as how to market themselves, write a resume and cover letter, be interviewed and reestablish a professional network.
“The crux of what GTI does is provide training for highly skilled refugees who are looking to rebuild their professional careers,” project manager Gina Finley said.
The organization comes to Twin Falls once a month to hold information sessions for interested refugees. And a portion of the training is done online.
For job seekers in professions that require licensing, such as a doctor, lawyer or pharmacist, Global Talent Idaho provides written materials to guide refugees through the process.
The nonprofit considers a “highly skilled refugee” someone with a bachelor’s degree or higher and at least a couple of years of professional work experience in his or her home country. “That way, you really have a career to reclaim,” Finley sad.
To participate, refugees must also have permanent U.S. work authorization, computer skills and intermediate or better English abilities.
The organization says 89 percent of program participants are working in their field within a year of completing training. The average income gain is $22,000. And the group estimates a $626,745 economic impact to families and Idaho’s tax base.
But helping a refugee get a job in his field is a long process, CSI Refugee Center director Zeze Rwasama said. “Our priority is self-sufficiency as they come. We will focus on trying to get them a job that’s available.” After that, they’re referred to Global Talent Idaho.
The initiative helps immigrants — including refugees — use their college degrees and skills in the U.S. Refugees face enormous obstacles to continuing their career and often fill low-wage jobs instead.
Having a college degree will help a refugee get a job interview, Rwasama said, but “your work experience will get you the job. What refugees don’t have is the work experience in the U.S.” On-the-job training and paid internships help refugees gain experience.
In addition to partnering with Global Talent Idaho, the CSI Refugee Center works with the Idaho Department of Labor to verify a refugee’s professional license and gain current standing.
“I will tell you that will take a long time,” Rwasama said. Plus, refugees “have to support their families and at the same time go to school to get academic credentials to perform their job in their field.”
Degrees from a refugee’s home country are difficult to validate, he said. Some refugees have transcripts from their university, which are evaluated.
“At the same time, it’s up to the employer to accept that,” Rwasama said. “Education systems from different countries are different.”
Tara Wolfson, co-founder of Global Talent Idaho, is the employment and training program manager at the Idaho Office for Refugees. She’s been there for seven years; when she first started, she met many refugees who had skilled jobs in their home countries.
When she found out what they were doing now, “they were pretty menial jobs,” she said, but “I saw talent bursting out of them.”
Wolfson received a technical assistance grant through Networks for Integrating New Americans to launch Global Talent Idaho.
A refugee might reframe rather than reclaim his career.
For a doctor, for instance, it’s a complex process to get certification to practice medicine in the U.S. One option is helping that person find another health care job that draws on her background, Wolfson said. For example, a refugee who used to be a doctor was recently hired at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise to work in infectious disease control.
Accountants often need training on specific software and the latest version of Excel. “Much of the accounting in the U.S. is done using a variety of different software that aren’t used in different countries,” Finley said.
In Twin Falls, the CSI Refugee Center also has programs to help newcomers find better jobs.
The extended services program — which launched in January 2015 — is open to refugees after their first eight months in the U.S. It targets employed refugees who aren’t in their fields of expertise or need to make more money to support themselves.
For jobs that require English, participants take English classes separate from newly arrived refugees. Language “is the biggest barrier we’re seeing,” Rwasama said. Refugees in the extended services program must keep their current jobs while they pursue better employment.