When Marie and Jean Charles left their native Haiti for Fargo, North Dakota, in 1994, they had one thing in mind; they wanted a better life for their children and themselves. Taking care of eight children in Haiti was a struggle for the married couple. Jean worked in both carpentry and farming while Marie worked as a food vendor. Part time, she sold clothes at the local market. All this was not enough to support their family and to make matters worse, political tension started to brew in the country. The latter was the final push for the Charles to leave the country.
Coming to the States had its problem. For one, they had to learn to adjust to the ice cold winters of North Dakota. The biggest blow to the family came six months after their arrival when Jean suffered a massive stroke after a vein in his head ruptured. With her husband in a coma and unable to work, Marie became the sole bread winner of the family. But this too would take a dive in 2008 when she was laid off from her position as an assembly line worker.
Marie had connections with Cultural Diversity Resources before she was laid off. She was introduced to the organization by a friend and soon began attending workshops that the organization held. Through these workshops, Marie met and became friends with executive director, Yoke-Sim Gunaratne. So when she was unemployed, she knew who to turn to. CDR did not only assist her with a job search but also helped her to create a resume and fill out job applications. This assistance offered by CDR is what is known as the Employment Readiness Program.
The Employment Readiness program was set up by CDR to prepare people of diverse backgrounds wanting to enter the work force. It is a program particularly used by New Americans who are not quite able to navigate the work culture in the States. The program is currently overseen by Community Coordinator, Marysol Hankel and Community Connectors Nasir Said and Lazo Qaradaxi. The concept of the Employment Readiness program is sometimes misunderstood by some clients as Hankel explained.
“Some come with the idea that we will get them a job,” she said. “I explain that we are here to offer guidance with job applications, interviews, and the work culture in the US. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee them a job.”
At times, their job goes beyond helping with just applications and interviews. Often times, they also act as interpreters for clients with limited English proficiency. They go to interviews with these clients and to job orientations once a job has been secured. Once a job has been secured, community connectors frequently check in with clients to see how they are faring with their new positions.
New Americans face a lot of problems when trying to enter the job market. One problem is that some companies are not eager to hire New Americans.
“Companies are not willing to invest in New Americans,” Marysol said – “ Most of the time, companies do not have staff who are culturally competent to help New Americans transition into a new work culture environment.”
There is also a recurring issue of New Americans dropping down the job ladder when they relocate to the States. In their countries of origin, most of them held important high skilled positions but in the States, they find themselves being qualified for only low skilled positions. Nasir Said boils the reason for this occurrence to language.
“More than experience, language determines the type of job New Americans get,” he said. “I worked with a lady who was a high school teacher in Somalia. She was very good but her understanding of English was poor. She has not been able to find a job for over two years.”
Clients helped by the Employment Readiness programs have gotten jobs at places like Hornbacher’s, Fargo Assembly, Cardinal IG and SunGold Foods and when they are employed, they showcase attitudes that impress their employers.
“Once they do get the job, they are hardworking- Said said. “I called a manager from Hornbacher’s and he had great reviews for one of my clients.”
Hankel explained this “can do” attitude of New Americans she has helped through the Employment readiness program:
“New Americans are willing to learn and they adapt quickly to a work environment,” she said. “All they need is an opportunity to show this.”
This opportunity has been given to Marie Charles who has been working as a Kitchen Assistant at Edgewood Vista for four years. With Jean fully recovered but still unable to work, Marie credits the Employment Readiness program in making the process of job hunting a much easier one.