Newcomers to the state are quickly moving toward employment

Recent news stories reporting that 400 of the migrants and refugees to Massachusetts who have been granted work permits are currently employed are surprising and at the same time not surprising at all.

Our organization, Thrive Support & Advocacy, is a small but growing nonprofit organization providing services to individuals with developmental disabilities, including residential and day support programs, in Middlesex and Worcester counties.

Sean RoseSean Rose

Sean Rose

We now employ 14 people who have been living in a temporary family shelter nearby, and another 10 people have been referred and are awaiting admission. In total, they will make up approximately one third of our direct support staff. If we had the capacity – both in terms of interpreters and resources – we would absolutely hire more, because their commitment far outweighs the onboarding challenges that come from speaking another language.

Businesses across the Commonwealth have been complaining about labor shortages for years. Our human services sector in particular is facing an ongoing workforce crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

A recent Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers workforce survey, in which we participated, found the overall vacancy rate among community-based providers of intellectual and developmental disability services to be 24%.

Therefore, it is surprising that only about 400 of these work-ready newcomers have found jobs.

The people we hired were among the first group of newcomers to receive a work permit in December. It took us eight weeks to onboard our first cohort of six women from Haiti due to language barriers and slow background checks.

Using lessons learned, patience and creativity, our second class of new hires were onboarded within four weeks, including background checks and completion of required training. This approximates the average training time for typical employees in our industry.

There’s no question that Massachusetts needs more workers, and these newcomers want jobs. Here are some tips to make this work:

  • Be creative: Language is the main barrier to employment for many refugees entering Massachusetts. We utilized current employees who speak Haitian Creole and hired a third person as a translator, and our new employees started a night shift where there would be less need for communication.

  • Be resourceful: The human services industry in Massachusetts is highly regulated, and people who provide direct care to individuals with complex needs must pass a series of background checks and training certifications to work in our industry. The certification tests, such as CPR and First Aid, are available in English only and require real-time interpretation, demonstration and translation for participating individuals.

  • Be collaborative: The resettlement agencies and providers who work with the people living in the shelters are invaluable in navigating the state system. Our partners at the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance help with paperwork, translation, transportation, English lessons and more. We also see opportunities to partner with other human service providers to reduce the overall cost of onboarding new staff.

  • Be persistent: When recruiting our first class of new employees, obtaining timely background check results was a challenge. With persistence and support from our state partners, including Senator Robyn Kennedy and Ken Brown, Assistant Secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, we are working to remove these barriers and achieve faster results.

Our new employees are enthusiastic and hardworking people who show up on time every shift. They are knowledgeable and friendly – ​​and grateful for the opportunity.

We hope that other employers – especially in our industry, which has struggled with a double-digit vacancy rate for more than a decade – will see the tremendous benefit of working with these people looking for a fresh start in America. By doing so, they will solve one piece of the workforce puzzle while allowing these new employees to build better lives for their families.

Sean Rose is president and CEO and Stacey Forrest is COO at Thrive Support & Advocacy in Marlborough and Worcester.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Sean Rose on getting mass migrants to work