Program Update: MassHire Lowell at Immigrant Shelters

2024-05-29T13:52:33-04:00

Collaboration, commitment, and a little creativity can change people’s lives.

In the Winter of 2024, the City of Lowell was one of the selected areas to house new arrivals from Haiti. Over 178 families began arriving at UMass Lowell’s Inn and Conference Center. Previously, the conference center housed UMass students and hosted many of Lowell’s social events and functions. Additionally, another 30 families were also housed at a hotel in neighboring Tewksbury.

As the new arrivals were first bused in, MassHire Lowell Career Center was assigned as one of several agencies that would be assisting these immigrants.  At first glance, the project seemed impossible. How could the career center place so many individuals with so many barriers to employment? These barriers included skill gaps in almost every area, such as language, occupational, cultural, transportation, and childcare.

Recognizing that this could not be a side project, the career center committed several staff members to be located daily at the immigration center. These staff members were multi-lingual and would perform the first assessment of participants.  In addition, two native Haitians were also hired as Career Advisors. With the assistance of Lowell’s branch of the International Institute of New England, Emmanuel Senat joined Lowell’s staff and Myrlande Emanuel, a career center customer, was also quickly hired.  The addition of these new Haitian staff members has been invaluable in bridging the language and cultural gaps between Career Advisors and participants.

One of the career center’s first steps when arriving at the shelter residence was building a positive relationship with the host agency Commonwealth Care  Alliance. The career center made a presentation to all of the agency’s caseworkers to explain our services and have continually sought effective communications from management to individual staff members.  This collaboration has been the foundation in providing comprehensive services for the immigrants.

Once the initial assessment of participants was completed, it was understood that standard job search practices could not be conducted. This realization sparked an innovative approach, where a combination of creativity and community services would be necessary.

Basic computer literacy was quickly identified as a fundamental skill gap. A program of six classes in Digital Literacy was scheduled for participants at the MassHire Lowell Skills  Center. Prior to coming to Massachusetts, most of the new arrivals have only used telephone-based technology, and completing web-based applications has been a challenge. After the six-class course, Computer Instructor Nicholas Campbell says he can see the initial fear of participants transforming into comfort and, for some, a drive to learn more advanced topics.

For some participants, training will be the key to success.  The career center created a training program that combines 160 hours of ESOL instruction and 10 weeks of Home Health Aid training. This program is designed to address both a language and occupational skill gap all wrapped in one course.

MassHire Lowell Career Center Business Service Reps have also conducted on-site recruitments, bringing employers directly into the immigration shelter. Although the participants are eager to work, they are better served with staff-assisted interviews. These recruitments resulted in 13 on-the-spot hires.

Career Advisors and Business Service Reps continually work individually with participants on interview skills, resume preparation, and career readiness.  The immigration center has been staffed each week by Career Advisors Zaris Huerta, Manuela Estrada, and Ohana Patterson.

In February, immigrants at the Tewksbury location participated in a pilot program between MassHire Lowell and Blaire House of Tewksbury. Blaire House staff visited the Tewksbury shelter and transported residents to their residential care facility.  After a tour and lunch, interviews were conducted, and eight shelter residents were offered jobs as Activities Assistant, Helping Hands Caregiver and Dietary Aides.

Finding a job can be a challenge for any immigrant population, but keeping that job is just as important. MassHire Lowell Career Center’s Retention program offers an opportunity to follow up with participants, offer additional supportive services, and, for some, a transportation allowance.

Unsurprisingly, with the commitment staff has shown toward working with the immigrants, some other non-standard excitement has occurred.  On Friday, May 17th, some of our staff accompanied some of the immigrants to Lowell’s City Hall to mark Haitian Flag Day.  And staff routinely seek donations for the families, including children’s educational materials and toys.   Our Career Advisor Emmanual Senat found himself one day – somewhat uncomfortably – dressing dozens of donated Barbie dolls that where donated for the children at the shelter.

Our staff also connected immigrants to the Lowell Bike Connector, a non-profit that provided free or low-cost bicycles.     To the dismay of shelter staff, this has resulted in dozens of bikes being racked in the center’s courtyard, offering many participants their first taste of mobility.

It is through this commitment to providing services no matter the barriers that has resulted in positive outcomes.  With over 200 work-authorized adults enrolled, 108 have found employment with an average salary of $17.38/hour.  Another 18 participants are in Home Health Aide training with an expected graduation this summer. Twenty-three individuals have completed the digital literacy program and 37 are waiting on the next sessions.

MassHire Lowell Career Center is still committed to serving the center but now knows that success can only be found in collaboration with other agencies and being a little more creative than the standard career readiness formula.

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