Thursday, July 25, 2024

Connecting highly-trained immigrants to the jobs needed in the US

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It’s called brain waste – when foreign professionals come to the United States and end up in low-skilled jobs that don’t take advantage of their training. The African Bridge Network is working to change that.

The work can benefit not only the individuals coming in, but the broader economy as well.

When you move in, you experience what we call the initial downgrade. You don’t get to do the same level of job of your degree and professional experience,” explained Emmanuel Owusu, the organization’s founder and executive director.

It’s a social justice question, but it’s also a purely economic one to get the best out of the people who are here,” adds Dr. Mark Melnick of the UMass Donahue Institute.

Owusu, who experienced the initial downgrade himself when he arrived in the U.S. from Ghana 20 years ago as an urban planner. He had strong family connections and support to work his way back up, but not everyone has that privilege. That’s why he founded the ABN – to address the employment challenge and the emotional sting.

“People begin to lose confidence in themselves,” Owusu said. “They begin to feel like I’m not capable or I’m not worthy to be able to build a career here.”

ABN offers a three-month paid fellowship. It’s a bridge they hope will lead to success in the Massachusetts job market.

“The percentage of immigrants in Massachusetts with a graduate degree is actually higher than the native-born,” Melnik pointed out.

“I am a medical doctor from Haiti and completed my medical school training at University at Notre Dame Haiti,” said Ludjie Jean Pierre, who is working with ABN.

These educated immigrants get technical and soft skills training focused on work culture, plus a paid internship. For Jean Pierre, it led to a full-time job as a clinical research coordinator, working with ALS patients at Mass General.

“I knew there was there were opportunities for foreign medical doctors with the physician shortage in the country,” she said.

“What the African Bridge Network fellowship allowed is…for us to get a more mature person with lived experience in different types of of work experience,” Judith Carey, RN, an ALS research access nurse, said.

“I felt comfortable, doing what I was doing, dealing with patients and, and be able to participate in patient care, those things that I, you know, that I used to do in my country,” Jean Pierre said.

Melnik, who is an economist, thinks ABN is onto something that can be scaled up.

“We’re facing a demographic cliff right now with an aging workforce,” he said. “It’s going to be important to increase labor force participation as much as possible to have the economy that we want.”

ABN started with a focus on health care and is moving into financial services. Participants come from all over the world, including Haiti, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

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