Giving Skilled Immigrants the Tools to Compete
As Civil War breaks out in Syria, Khalid chooses to speak out against the regime, is jailed, and eventually flees with his family to Jordan. After some time, he makes his way to the Bay Area on a temporary visa and gains asylum, affording him the same opportunity to seek work as anyone born in the U.S. He speaks English, has a degree in Computer Science from the University of Damascus, and years of experience in computer programming. As he begins his job search, he sends his resume out to 500 companies, netting him only a couple interviews and zero job offers.
Khalid’s story was shared by Nikki Cicerani, CEO of Upwardly Global (UpGlo), a national nonprofit that helps skilled immigrants, refugees, and asylees overcome employment barriers and restart their professional careers in the U.S.
There are close to 2 million immigrants like Khalid who are college-educated, have skills in high demand from U.S. companies, but are unemployed or signifcantly underemployed. In their home countries, they worked as computer programmers, physicians, and accountants. In the U.S. they are forced to take “survival” jobs as cab drivers, security guards, and cashiers.
Through an extensive training program, one-on-one coaching, and introductions to companies in need of their talents, UpGlo gives skilled immigrants the tools they need to compete for a job in their chosen profession. As Ms. Cicerani explains, “Our Founder Jane Leu coined a phrase – ‘Immigrants know how to do the job, but they don’t necessarily know how to get the job.’” UpGlo works with each skilled immigrant in their program to adapt their resume to the expectations of US employers, develop their interview skills, and learn how to network to find their next opportunity.
In 2015, the Foundation awarded UpGlo an Impact Grant to scale their online training program. According to Ms. Cicerani, the organization expects to train over 2,000 skilled immigrants this year. This is dramatic increase from the hundreds of immigrants they were able to help through their exclusively in-person training program: “With Cornerstone, we took this old clunky way of doing training and brought it into a best-in-class enterprise software platform…. We continue to find ways to collaborate and get the training out to even more people.”
As part of Cornerstone’s Development Day series, the Foundation hosted 15 job seekers enrolled in the UpGlo program and gave them a chance to practice their job-seeking skills. UpGlo paired each skilled immigrant with a volunteer from Cornerstone who played the role of a hiring manager in the immigrant’s chosen field. Throughout the day, program participants responded to common interview questions, asked questions of the potential employer, delivered their elevator pitch, and worked on networking skills. Volunteers from Cornerstone provided feedback on their resume and interview responses to help them prepare for the “real thing.”
Rehan Mirza, a Senior Marketing Strategist at Cornerstone reflected on his volunteer experience: “Being the son of immigrant parents, I immediately felt a strong calling to UpGlo’s mission. In getting the opportunity to sit down and hear their stories, I was extremely impressed by the skills, qualifications, and grit of all the job seekers. As someone who’s always been in this country’s job market, you don’t realize all the little things you’ve picked up over time on how to be successful. Sharing this knowledge was actually a lot of fun and even more rewarding knowing that it had the possibility to make an impact in the lives of others.”
Brent Goodman, an Account Coordinator at Cornerstone, talked about how the experience was particularly meaningful given her own experience immigrating to the U.S.: "It was a grounding and eye-opening experience to see incredibly intelligent and capable professionals have to start from scratch, in a new country, speaking a new language. My family is from all over the world and I, myself, moved to the US. and had to learn English as a third language. I know what this feels like and it felt really good to give back and help people get on their feet, and help build their confidence in a world that’s unfamiliar to them."
Thank you to Nikki Cicerani for delivering the keynote address, the entire UpGlo team for coordinating such an impactful event, and all the Cornerstone volunteers for helping these job seekers build the skills and confidence to compete. If you are interested in making a difference with UpGlo, check out the in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities they offer throughout the year.