INFORUM: Ready to work: New programs offer workplace training for new Americans

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By Angie Wieck

Kamil Khallaf secured just 25 interviews after submitting nearly 600 job applications. The 58-year-old had a successful career in his home country of Iraq, but he has found it difficult to find similar work in the U.S. He recently participated in a free program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College designed to help new Americans with the job search process.

New American Workforce Readiness Training teaches resume writing and interview techniques as well as basic math and language skills, time management and workplace safety.

G.L. Tucker, M State's dean of custom training, reached out to human resource professionals at some of the area's largest employers to determine what skills they felt new Americans were often lacking. He provided that information to instructors at Moorhead Adult Basic Education, and together they developed a 40-hour course.

Khallaf had the opportunity to put what he learned to use last week at a graduation ceremony where Tucker invited employers to interview graduates for possible job placement.

Brianna Nistler, an HR generalist with Tecton Products of Fargo, was impressed.

"They learned what (interview) questions mean and how to answer them. They learned to let employers know they're interested and how they can meet the needs of the job," she said. "I think this is a great program. I think it will be good for everyone who goes through it."

A recently released Greater Fargo-Moorhead Regional Workforce Study shows that many participants believe the new American population is one solution to this area's workforce shortage.

Nearly 1,100 refugees have been resettled here in the last three years. Employers who have hired new Americans complimented their work ethic, but said there is a "need for English language acquisition and orientation to culture in the workplace."

In addition to M State, new American workforce training is available at North Dakota State College of Science's Fargo campus and through Fargo Adult Basic Education.


NDSCS has offered a program for new Americans known as the Skills Development Project since 2002. Courses are available in manufacturing and certified nursing assistant training.

Introductory sessions teach English terminology for tools and processes, and soft skills such as time management, communication and workplace safety.

The introductory certified nursing assistant course prepares students for the standard CNA classes, which can be taken at NDSCS or at area employers such as Bethany Retirement Living.

Once the introductory manufacturing session is complete, students are encouraged to take an advanced session that teaches skills such as blueprint reading.

Director Janie Hulett recommends taking both the introductory and advanced sessions because she does not just want students to secure an entry-level job. She wants to see them advance.

"My focus, and it's been almost 14 years, it's always been on providing the specific skills so someone is ready not just for entry level, but for those advancement opportunities," she said.

She said those who complete the courses typically make $2.50 an hour more than those without similar training.

Hulett funds the program through grants from organizations like Job Service, the Otto Bremer Foundation and the city of Fargo. She meets with all interested students to assess their math and English levels, and overall readiness for the program. Sessions begin once she has assembled a class of at least nine students.

Fargo Adult Ed

The Fargo Adult Learning Center began offering a work readiness program this fall. The classes are held in conjunction with its English as a Second Language courses.

Students can begin by taking Job Skills 1, which is for students with low English proficiency, at any time. The Job Skills 2 class is for students with intermediate to advanced English proficiency. The next session will begin Dec. 7.

Classes focus on subjects such as basic math and English, soft skills such as communication and workplace safety, transportation, and resume-writing and interview techniques.

Jennifer Frueh, coordinator of the Adult Learning Center, said the program is still in its early stages. The curriculum may change some based on feedback from Job Service, employers and other community agencies, but she knows they're off to a good start.

"We heard from a student in our first class who had an interview the day after we had specifically worked on interview skills," she said. "She came back and told the instructor how grateful she was because they asked the exact same questions in her interview. She felt fully prepared."

Course Information

What: New American Workforce Readiness Training

Where: Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Moorhead campus

When: A new session begins Jan. 18. Classes are from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.

Contact: (218) 846-3766

What: Skills Development Project

Where: North Dakota State College of Science's Fargo campus.

When: Applications are accepted year-round. Classes will begin once the required number of students have been approved.

Contact: Janie Hulett at (701) 231-6918

What: Job Skills 1 and Job Skills 2

Where: Fargo Adult Learning Center

When: Students can begin Job Skills 1, which is from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays, at any time. A new Job Skills 2 session will begin Dec. 7. Classes are from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Mondays.

Contact: (701) 446-2807

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