This workforce program is for immigrants who can speak English and have degrees - Generocity Philly

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May 31, 2017 1:49 pm

This workforce program is for immigrants who can speak English and have degrees

The barriers to the U.S. workplace for skilled immigrants are varied. Here's how the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians’ International Professionals Program is helping them out.

The current cohort for the International Professionals Program.

(Courtesy photo)

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians (WCNP) wants to make it clear that the barriers to the professional workspace in the U.S., particularly for immigrants, have to do with more than just speaking English or having a degree.

“We’re really trying to do away with that myth, because it is a myth,” said Nicole Pumphrey, director of strategic partnerships at WCNP.

Pumphrey said that one of the biggest necessities for getting a professional job is work experience, but this becomes a “chicken and the egg” sort of dilemma for immigrants — you can’t get a professional job if you don’t have U.S. work experience, which is something that’s hard to get if you’ve never worked in the U.S. to begin with.

That’s why WCNP launched the International Professionals Program (IPP) in 2015. It’s a 10-week program that helps immigrants who have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree from their country of origin and are looking to re-enter their field in the States.

Eric Rosenfeld, the director of the IPP, said that out of the current cohort of 23 participants, nearly two-thirds of them have a Master’s degree or higher, and participants come from a variety of fields and professions, including philosophy and foreign affairs.

The age range of the participants is also pretty varied, from the early 20s to the upper 50s, so the key thing WCNP pushes is for these participants to get involved with volunteering or internships.

“The more you get involved with people, the more likely you’ll get some opportunity to get in the door” as an employee, Rosenfeld said.

The program also teaches soft skills such as networking and interviewing — which can be difficult considering the workplace cultures can differ between countries. Rosenfeld said that the current cohort has participants from around 20 countries including Algeria, Venezuela, Japan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Colombia and Pakistan.

That’s why Pumphrey has been working to get more partnerships in place to offer more of these opportunities to participants. She’s currently in talks with the city to develop some sort of fellowship program for government jobs, for instance.

Job fairs are also key opportunities for these participants. (Apparently Generocity has been a part of those efforts, with 75 percent of the current cohort having attended our recent INTER/VIEW impact jobs fair, according to Pumphrey.)

The hope is to have four iterations of the program run annually, which would help close to 100 participants each year. As of right now, though, Pumphrey said, funding for this kind of work is limited because “it doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional funding support of workforce development.” It’s often assumed that immigrants who can speak English and have a degree are less needy.

But it’s an issue of “brain waste,” she said, when people with so much potential travel to the U.S. only to be on the sidelines of what could be greater economic development.

Word-of-mouth on the program has been surprisingly effective, Rosenfeld said; one participant even applied to the program during the plane ride to the states. But most participants get involved with IPP after they’ve been here for one to three years. Now, folks like Lina Duffy, the communications manager for WCNP, are working to develop more strategic outreach and storytelling campaigns to get the message out on this program’s availability to those who need it.

Duffy herself was a part of the program in 2016. For her, the professional network was just something she didn’t have before. The network she gained — not just with potential employers, but within her cohort — helped her to eventually get the job with WCNP:

“You’re not doing it by yourself,” Duffy said.

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