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Immigrant Workforce Program Opens Career Doors for Pittsburghers From Around the World

Over the course of 10 weeks this summer, 12 individuals from eight different countries participated in the Immigrant Workforce Program (IWP), a career-readiness initiative with JFCS and Literacy Pittsburgh for immigrants in Allegheny County. This summer’s cohort focused especially on healthcare and health-related fields. During the course of the program, participants got to meet with potential employers, practice their English, hone their resume and interview skills, and support each other through the process of searching for jobs. 

Through IWP, immigrant job seekers worked with staff from JFCS Career Development Center and Literacy Pittsburgh to prepare for the American workforce through English lessons, digital literacy, and one-on-one career counseling. The participants met regularly for workshops and classes to improve their skills and knowledge pertaining to job readiness, and they also met individually with career counselors from JFCS. Through the program, participants are able to connect with other job seekers and learn from and support each other.

This summer’s IWP cohort came from a variety of backgrounds, with participants from Nigeria, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, China, Sudan, Tajikistan, Iran, and Uganda. They came with diverse career backgrounds and interests as well, including information technology, project management, gynecology, education, pharmacy, data management, psychology, nursing, and research. Throughout the program, the participants had a chance to connect with regional employers, especially those in the healthcare field. Representatives from UPMC, Giant Eagle, Presbyterian Senior Care, Squirrel Hill Health Center, and Jewish Association on Aging presented to the cohort and some even conducted individual interviews. 

For many of the individuals, this program gives them a chance to work towards a better career and understand how to gain transferable skills. For others, it provides opportunities to reconnect to their original field of work from their home countries. For example, several of the clients from Afghanistan came with hefty educational and career experience but were not qualified for similar jobs in the US because of language or certification requirements. One woman, whose husband also participated in IWP, worked as a pharmacist back in Afghanistan. She is currently pursuing her pharmacy license here in Pennsylvania and used IWP to learn and gain helpful skills and knowledge that will help her in the American workforce. 

Another participant from Afghanistan has a PhD in Molecular Biology from a university in Tokyo. Through IWP she was able to work with JFCS career counselors to get connected to a Pitt recruiter where she has been offered a position to teach as a lab instructor for the semester. An individual from Sudan has been working for UPMC for some time in environmental services. He had been a teacher for 10 years in Egypt and was interested in pursuing a career in nursing. Through IWP he was able to learn necessary skills, practice language skills, and get connected with recruiters from various healthcare organizations in Pittsburgh. 

Florence,* another IWP participant, had been working with Maggie, her career counselor at JFCS Career Development Center, to find a job when she mentioned her interest in a career in healthcare. With a college degree and work experience in banking from her home country, she decided she was ready for a career change when she came to the US. Maggie referred her to IWP, and she was accepted as part of this summer’s program.

For Florence, IWP made a huge difference in her confidence and ability to move forward in a new career field. “She has been an integral part of our cohort, actively participating in each session as well as utilizing the resources and connections that have been provided,” Maggie explained. “Florence has been so appreciative of the connections that she has been able to make through this program.” Through IWP, Florence was able to interview with UPMC and meet with a recruiter that reached out to her and encouraged her to apply for positions she would be qualified for. She also did mock phone and video interviews with Giant Eagle and got high remarks from both of Giant Eagle’s recruiters.

“Florence feels very positive about the steps she is taking in her career and the connections that IWP created for her,” Maggie said. “She is so appreciative and mentioned that she would not be where she is now in her job search or have the connections she does if she had not participated in this program.” For job seekers like Florence, and all the other participants, this program continues to open doors into new job opportunities in the American workforce.