Much of the nation’s immigrant workforce is made up of individuals who have training, experience, or foreign college degrees that they acquired before coming to the states. Regardless of experience or training, immigrants are often concentrated in low-to-middle skill jobs and struggle to gain economic mobility.
The Welcoming Center (TWC) is a nonprofit located in Center City Philadelphia on the western border of Chinatown. Our mission is to promote inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration.
As part of TWC’s workforce development efforts, we work with immigrants at all skill and education levels who are looking to find meaningful employment or pursue additional education or training. Our Immigrant Fellowship Program is particularly effective toward this goal, offering employers an opportunity to preview talent through a 12-week paid work experience and offering immigrants the opportunity to connect with employers in their preferred fields. This program was launched in 2017 in partnership with the City of Philadelphia.
“From a hiring perspective, the fellowship program is essentially a win-win for us. It gives us access to reliable, quality talent,” said Neeharika Damera, senior product manager and fellowship supervisor at Philly-based SaaS company Stimulus. “We are getting good resources here and doing our part to build a more inclusive economy. Our organization is women-owned and diverse, and this program allows us to tap into a labor force that reflects the values of our organization. This fellowship program is helping acclimatize new Americans to completely novel surroundings and aims to bring forward what is best in them, while also providing a valuable talent resource for employers.”
This program is a dynamic tool for both job-seeking immigrants and organizations who are interested in bringing on new talent. But before these tools can be leveraged to their full potential, TWC wants to ensure employers are ready to receive immigrant talent. Diversity, equity and inclusion strategies have been implemented across many organizations nationwide. And immigrants must be included in these strategies.
Organization-wide buy-in is critically important in developing a culturally competent workplace for the long term.
Advancing best practices for immigrant integration into the workplace was the inspiration for the Engaging Immigrant Talent initiative. TWC received a generous grant from the WES Mariam Assefa Fund and partnered with the City of Philadelphia to identify existing best practices among employers. These best practices focused on hiring, promoting and retaining immigrant talent at all skill and education levels.
This was an intensive 18-month study made up of interviews, focus groups, and roundtable discussions with employers and immigrants from a wide range of industries and careers. These conversations examined how to develop more inclusive practices and create a culturally competent work environment to successfully integrate immigrants into the workplace.
In June 2021, months of research and work came together in the Engaging Immigrant Talent Toolkit, developed for The Welcoming Center by The Junkin Group, LLC. The toolkit serves as a workplace guide and can be adapted for businesses and organizations of any size or operation. It covers three key components for integrating immigrant talent — awareness, responsibility, and accountability. Moving through these three components of the toolkit helps organizations make hard-earned cultural shifts towards a more inclusive workplace that is ready to receive immigrant talent.
Because the toolkit focuses on hiring, promoting and retaining, organizations will want to identify any existing biases and polices that hinder immigrant integration into the workforce. For the toolkit application to be successful, the entire organization will need to be involved in the process; everyone should have a voice. Organization-wide buy-in is critically important in developing a culturally competent workplace for the long term. True organizational change can take time and requires intentionality, practice and commitment.
The work of implementing the toolkit is an ongoing process, but the outcomes are a win for everyone — employers, immigrants and communities.
To learn more about The Welcoming Center’s Immigrant Fellowship Program and to download the toolkit, please visit our website:-30-