Program helps immigrants obtain jobs

Feb 29, 2024Articles

With an increasing number of immigrants arriving in Pittsburgh, services like the Immigrant Workforce Program (IWP), which helps prepare them for the American workforce and improve their English, are increasingly vital. Started in 2017, IWP is a partnership program between Jewish Family and Community Services and Literacy Pittsburgh. The program continues to evolve to meet the needs of the changing job market.

Throughout the eight-week program, staff from JFCS Career Services help participants format their resumes, write cover letters, prepare for interviews, work on their elevator pitches, and understand the expectations of U.S. workplaces. Literacy Pittsburgh provides English language support for participants, helping students master workplace vocabulary related to each session and providing feedback on their writing.

After switching to a virtual format in 2020 during the pandemic, the program continues to be held over Zoom. This lowers the barriers to attendance for many participants, especially those with children or existing jobs. The online format allows students and presenters to use the chat feature on Zoom to ask questions privately or to the whole group, or to write out something that someone is having trouble understanding. The group also uses Zoom’s breakout room feature to give participants more focused attention to their resumes, cover letters, elevator pitches, and more.

Participants like Zuhal, an immigrant from Sudan, said that the program was a huge help in adjusting to life in the U.S. With a background in relief work and training in community health and nutrition, Zuhal looked for a program that could improve her chances of getting a job in the local workforce when her family moved to Pittsburgh in fall of 2022. "When I participated in the Immigrant Workforce Program, my language improved, and I was able to pass an interview for the position of Nurse Assistant at UPMC Mercy Hospital," she explained. Zuhal started her job in January 2024.

Leila said that IWP was one of the first programs she signed up for when she arrived from Tunisia. She expressed how frustrating the job search process was for her, saying, "I was lost; I didn't have any clues or idea how it works here." She learned how to navigate local hiring with help from IWP. "I learned the adequate techniques and skills that helped me to make my job search journey easier, smoother, and less stressful."

 Although many immigrants come to Pittsburgh with university degrees and extensive work experience, that experience doesn’t always transfer to U.S. employers, and the unfamiliar systems for job searching can be difficult to navigate. JFCS and Literacy Pittsburgh hope that through IWP, they can help more immigrants thrive and succeed in the city and make Pittsburgh a more vibrant place.

Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council) helps create better lives through learning. Recognized as a national leader in adult and family literacy, Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest provider of adult basic education in Allegheny and Beaver Counties. Last year, Literacy Pittsburgh helped more than 4,000 individuals acquire the skills needed to reach their fullest potential in life and participate productively in their communities. Literacy Pittsburgh provides free, personalized instruction in workforce readiness, high school diploma test preparation, digital literacy, English language learning, math, reading, and family literacy through one-to-one and small class instruction. Founded in 1982, it serves local adults through numerous neighborhood locations and its Downtown Pittsburgh Learning Center.       

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