The Center for People in Need helps refugees and immigrants by offering a variety of job training classes, such as janitorial training, food service training and forklift training.
But recently, the center discovered those classes weren’t enough: Students who completed those classes weren’t getting jobs.
“We realized we could teach them the (work) skills,” said Liz Heusman, the center’s job training coordinator, “but they would not have the skills to do an interview.”
Oo Meh, a Karenni refugee from Burma, is one such example, Heusman said. The 60-year-old completed the center’s janitorial training program and has good typing skills, but she has been unable to keep a job because of her limited English.
Sudanese refugee Esta Loboka, 52, lost her job for the same reason. Loboka worked as a cleaner at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital for six months. She said she was laid off because she didn’t speak enough English to follow instructions. “Sometimes they say ‘do this,’ but I didn’t understand,” she said.
Fares Dahhar, a 49-year-old Kurdish refugee from Iraq, faced the same problem when he worked for a pet food company in Lincoln. Through a translator, Dahhar said he worked there for a month and got fired, because he didn’t speak English. Soon after, he was let go yet again after working just 10 days at a company manufacturing plastic tables and chairs.
“I want to learn English,” he said.
Oo Meh, Loboka and Dahhar are just three of the eight students in the center’s 15-week job readiness class that started in the fall of 2011.
From 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, participants engage in an intensive English class geared toward job-related vocabulary, workplace communication and other necessary skills to apply and interview for, get and keep a job.
“The goal at the end of 15 weeks is to get a job,” said Ashley Heckman, the class instructor who also works in the center’s computer lab.
Students learn about time and the days of the week. “Being on time is very important,” Heckman said.
Students learn interviewing skills: how to talk about their strengths and weaknesses and how to dress and behave at an interview. Heusman said personal hygiene is an important topic because sometimes refugees and immigrants shower less frequently than is usual in America.
Heckman also takes the students to the computer lab so they can learn how to use the computer.
They learn how to find jobs online, how to fill out job applications and how to type up a resume.
All the students work diligently as Heckman teaches them about references and resumes. They also spend lots of time reading, writing and speaking in English.
Their diligence is paying off. “I’ve seen improvement over these last two to three weeks,” Heckman said.
Heusman said she thinks progress has been good so far, but the center has had no way to assess the class until recently. “We just became certified to do English proficiency testing,” Heusman said. Now the goal will be to get everyone at the center – from the refugees to the volunteers to the staff – assessed, she said.
While she can’t be sure the students are getting everything they need in class, Heckman said, she knows they’re getting something when she sees them smile.
“It’s little steps,” Heckman said.