WE Innovate: Programs for immigrant professionals Part 2: Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians training program accelerates workforce re-entry
By Beth Szurpicki
This post is the second in a two-part series highlighting two innovations in St. Louis and Philadelphia to support foreign-trained and educated immigrant professionals. To read the first, click here.
“When I came to the United States I thought that finding a job in my field would be easy. The reality slammed my face: is not easy, even if you have enough qualifications.” Irene Contreras’ sentiments are all too common. An immigrant from Venezuela with a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience, Irene couldn’t find a job to put her knowledge to use despite her qualifications.
The unemployment or underemployment of foreign educated and trained immigrants in the United States is a large problem known as ‘brain waste.’ According to the Migration Policy Institute’s 2016 report, Untapped Talent: The Costs of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States, “The pending retirement of many baby boomers, low U.S. birth rates, and the shift toward the knowledge economy are combining to leave many regional economies without the highly-skilled workforce they need to grow and attract business.” Unfortunately, most of the country’s institutions and infrastructures fail to recognize and embrace the skills and potential of the highly-skilled immigrant professionals that could fill those gaps. MPI’s research shows that (as of 2016) 1 in 4 college-educated immigrants, a total of near 2 million workers, are stuck in low-skilled jobs or are unemployed (also showing that they fare worse than their US-born counterparts, for which the number is approximately 1 in 5). This outcome is a real loss to the many talented professionals that struggle to provide for themselves and their families, and is a real loss to the local economy.
In this series we highlight two WE Global Network members who have innovated strategies to support immigrant professionals and thwart brain waste in their local community.
Immigrant Professionals Program
Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians
Since 2003, Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians in Philadelphia has accelerated immigrant integration and economic advancement through education and training, employment, and entrepreneurship, and has served over 17,000 people from over 150 countries. Through its years assisting immigrants with its broad cadre of services and resources, much of which aims for secure and meaningful employment, and its data-driven approach, the Welcoming Center developed a program to address one of the largest issues they know immigrants are facing: brain waste, fueled by the fact that employers want workers with U.S. work experience, but you can’t get it if you don’t already have it.
Alongside learning about U.S. job search standards and workplace culture, participants work with program administrators to develop a detailed and personal action plan to guide them on their career path. Administrators are knowledgeable of the challenges immigrants typically face and the misunderstandings that pose issues, and are able to help divert the participants from those pitfalls along a smoother and more direct career path.
Additionally, IPP has opened doors for more innovation: In 2017, the Welcoming Center helped build the City of Philadelphia’s City Immigrant Fellowship Program, the first of its kind. The program is a 12-week paid, part-time, and project based fellowship experience throughout the City of Philadelphia’s various agencies with the intention of providing immigrant professionals with the critical U.S. work experience they need to obtain full-time employment. The Immigrant Fellowship Program would not exist without IPP and the Welcoming Center at its core: the Fellows were prepared for the opportunity first through IPP, and the Welcoming Center is responsible for their coaching and ongoing support.
Learn more about this innovation at National Skills Coalition.
The funding structure of IPP could serve as a new model, replicable nationally, of public workforce funds supporting skilled immigrant integration. IPP is the first immigrant professional-focused program being supported by Title I Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds, which funds workforce development through a combination of education and training services to prepare individuals for work and to help them improve their prospects in the labor market. The Welcoming Center recognizes that the City’s leadership and ethos of welcoming to immigrants helped make this funding a reality, and is part of a greater investment strategy in the future of Philadelphia.
IPP has provided the opportunity for the Welcoming Center to engage with the local employer community in a much more targeted and strategic way, more than they had had ever done before. Through this engagement, with the Employer Advisory Council and beyond, they have identified four top priorities of employers, and used this to hone their corporate engagement strategy and value proposition. This impacts not only the success of IPP but all of the Welcoming Center’s programs and local inclusion efforts. IPP has also given the Welcoming Center the opportunity to look at how foreign-born residents are building skills, competence, and confidence through the program, and what’s working best.
Both the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and International Institute of St. Louis are leaders in the movement and founding organizations of our Network. Their efforts to take leaps and build new bridges and venture into new territory to make communities and economies more inclusive are monumental. Immigrant economic development practitioners have learned a lot from them, and they have inspired other communities to follow in their footsteps. In this challenging time, institutions like these two are a beacon.
If you are interested in learning more about IPP or exploring how your organization could develop a similar program, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.557.2830.