Zikrullah Habibi migrated to the St. Louis from Afghanistan in 2014 with his immediate family. He did not have any friends or other relatives in the States to assist with his transition.
Though Habibi, 32, came to St. Louis with a business degree and work experience under his belt, he said his new start had him in a state of confusion. The cultural barriers made it challenging for him to even drive, grocery shop or job hunt.
Connecting with the International Institute of St. Louis through a refugee resettlement program made assimilating smoother for Habibi and his family. Because of Habibi’s advanced skills, the institute paired him with various companies to try to get him a job in the field he worked in before leaving his home country.
“I took some classes in the institute and met with the caseworkers, and they really did help me and my kids; and that’s why I’m still standing,” Habibi said.
Besides helping refugee families with career goals, the International Institute of St. Louis is launching Immigrant Career Path Services in January to help immigrants quickly transition into the career fields of their choice.
“This program was designed for folks that had come to St. Louis with advanced degrees or years of extensive experience, and because we knew that many were working at entry-level jobs or doing Uber driving or working in a factory line — brain waste was occurring, and we weren't able to really leverage their skills and abilities to positions immediately,” said Chelsea Hand-Sheridan, workforce solutions director of the International Institute of St. Louis.
Though the impetus of this program is to provide immigrants with high-skill levels an opportunity to connect their job-related skills to relevant professions, educational and career services are available for immigrants without advanced degrees.
The new career initiative will offer career development such as resume writing, interviewing sessions, job training and assistance with higher education. Counselors will assess certifications and foreign degrees, as well as offer recertification services and other employment-related courses.
To qualify, immigrants must be work authorized. Certain courses may incur fees.
“I believe this program can help fill the much-needed roles that our employers and our industries are seeking at this time,” Hand-Sheridan said. “There's a lot of concern about the aging workers, the population of workers and folks not being able to fill these roles. And so we really want to see those folks living to their full potential and helping our region grow to its full potential.”
Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.
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