A new program at the International Institute of St. Louis is helping immigrant professionals build job skills and advance their careers.The Career Advancement for International Professionals encourages immigrants like Tairou Goura not to abandon their professional ambitions.
Goura spent more than 15 years working as a teacher in Togo. It was his love for teaching that led him to come to the United States.
“I wanted to know more about the all the techniques, philosophy and the best practice in education,” he said.
So Goura came to the United States in 2009 to pursue a doctorate in educational administration. He earned his degree in 2012, but since then he’s had trouble finding a job.
He enrolled in the program hoping to gain more skills for his job search.
Blake Hamilton, who manages the workforce solutions program, at the International Institute of St. Louis says Goura’s job struggles are not unique.
While the institute has always helped immigrants and refugees with varying backgrounds, Hamilton says that he's recently seen a larger influx of highly educated immigrants with lots of work experience.
“We found that they had a hard time adjusting when they were being placed in entry-level jobs,” Hamilton said. “Often refugees come with the notion that they are going to start completely from scratch and that can be a difficult chore. We know that they don't all have to start that way.”
However, many immigrants with degrees run into roadblocks. For starters, recertification or relicensing can be a long and confusing process, said Hamilton. Navigating American job culture can also be difficult.
Rachel Mapp, who teaches in the program, said people don't realize the role culture plays in finding a job.
“We know everything about (the job) process coming from this country, “ she said. “We have someone coming in from a different culture, a different background with a different language and trying to go about it the way that they would in their country. It can be really frustrating and really confusing."
The four-week program helps individuals through these challenges. The program builds upon past classes run at the International Institute, which focused on networking and interviewing skills. The new program also covers recertification and relicensing.
Once students complete the course, they will have the opportunity to be partnered with someone in their field to help them with their job search.
Betsy Cohen, who heads up the St. Louis Mosaic Project, said programs like this offer hope.
“Often skilled immigrants just lose hope that they are going to be able to use their skills in the St. Louis region because they don't see a pathway,” Cohen said. “So this connects them to training and knowledge that will give them the hope and the skills that they need.”
It’s hope that Goura has been searching for.
“There is a regaining of hope because previously I tend to not see all the potential that I have and the opportunities that I can maybe use certain aspects of my background,” Goura said. “So now it’s time to say there is still hope and I should not give up in this job search.”
So far three people have enrolled in the progran's first session. The next session starts on April 14.