New Americans and the Labor Force

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Minneapolis map with northwest region highlighted and words Northwest Minnesota

Throughout its history, Leading CareerForce partner Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (RMCEP) has assisted thousands of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds acquire the skills and training necessary to thrive in the regional economy and elsewhere.  While training and employment service is RMCEP’s primary mission, their clients often have barriers to joining the regional labor force that must also be addressed in the process.  Such workforce barriers as childcare availability, language differences, or a lack of transportation are frustrating realities for many jobseekers. 

In particular, new Americans often face multiple barriers and a steep learning curve when transitioning to life in a new nation with a unique and complex economy.  Through its staff and community partners, RMCEP provides support to immigrants as they navigate these challenges and plays a crucial role in their introduction to work and life in Northwest Minnesota.

According to Census data, Northwest Minnesota is home to about 12,000 people who were foreign born. Nearly 4,000 come from Asia, and another 3,300 come from Latin America, while more recently, immigrants from Europe have been declining while people from Africa have increased. Since 2010, the region has enjoyed steady international in-migration. In fact, the number of additional foreign born residents who have moved into the region outweigh domestic in-migration by nearly 2 to 1, as only 1,714 people have moved into the region from elsewhere in the state and nation during the timeframe, compared to a net gain of nearly 3,400 immigrants.  Of the four economic development regions in Northwest, Region 4 had the highest number of international migrants with an increase of 1,798 people so far this decade (see Table 1).

Table 1. Cumulative Estimates of the Components of Population Change

 

 

April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2018

   

 

Vital Events

Net Migration

  Total Population Change Natural Increase

Births

Deaths

Total

International

Domestic

Region 1

-1,122

+1,455

8,771

7,316

-2,568

+689

-3,257

Region 2

+3,243

+2,797

9,534

6,737

+488

+502

-14

Region 4

+9,851

+3,747

22,678

18,931

+6,250

+1,798

+4,452

Region 5

+2,919

+2,074

15,946

13,872

+922

+389

+533

Northwest Minnesota

 + 14,891

+10,073

56,929

46,856

+5,092

+3,378

+1,714

Minnesota

+307,254

+228,289

570,171

341,882

+81,671

+107,830

-26,159

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program

Within the Northwest Minnesota Region, Moorhead stands out as the epicenter of RMCEP’s work with new Americans.  Azad Berwari, a RMCEP workforce counselor and immigrant himself, has worked at the CareerForce location in Moorhead for over five years, and knows how daunting it can be for a new American to find work, even with the resources and training they provide.  “The system can be difficult to understand even for someone who has lived here their whole life!” says Berwari. “So in addition to skills training, we must address language and cultural barriers.  It is an intense program.” 

photo of Azad Berwari and Theresa Hazeman
Azad Berwari and Theresa Hazeman at CareerForce in Moorhead

Berwari is currently the lead navigator working with new Americans on a Pathways to Prosperity project that provides Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training and manufacturing training in addition to language training, career counseling (job search and job interview), CPR,  online safety training, and Northstar digital literacy training, during which a client would be trained on the basics of using a computer.

In addition to establishing career paths for new Americans, Berwari also acts as a bridge to help immigrants understand their new surroundings, and learn to trust local institutions. “Many of our clients come from places that don’t offer these services, and they are wary of government in general.  They don’t realize there are people and organizations here to support them, so it’s all pretty new from their perspective,” he says.  RMCEP is keenly aware of this important dynamic, and how valuable Berwari is to connecting with their immigrant clients. 

A refugee of the first Gulf War, Berwari attended North Dakota State University in Fargo on a student visa and earned a M.A. in sociology, and eventually a Ph.D. in Emergency Management.  Fluent in four languages, he started his own interpreting service prior to joining RMCEP, both contracting with and volunteering for several local organizations in order to help as many fellow immigrants as he could.  Berwari’s network of immigrants and service providers has led to numerous intercultural connections, and strengthened the community of support services in the region. Theresa Hazeman, Berwari’s supervisor, is thankful to have an employee with his background and experience, “We didn’t hire him to be a cultural educator, but his impact on the rest of the staff is invaluable.  We all have more insight into the immigrant experience thanks to working with Azad, and I think that adds even more meaning to our work.”

As demonstrated by their work with new Americans, diversity is one of the values that guides RMCEP in all it does.  According to its corporate policy statement, RMCEP values uniqueness, perspective and cultural heritage in all people and is committed to assisting individuals reach their full career potential.  In this subject and others, their leadership in Northwest Minnesota is improving the quality and resiliency of the regional workforce.

For more information on the importance of immigration to our labor force, visit the Labor Market Information pages or contact Erik White erik.white@state.mn.us or Chet Bodin chet.bodin@state.mn.us

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