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Immigrants translate skills, find jobs in Michigan



Upwardly Global (UpGlo) launched in 1999 after founder Jane Leu toured a New York poultry production plant that was considered a model for refugee resettlement. Among the plant’s employees, she met a former engineer and surgeon. Leu, who worked in refugee resettlement, realized there needed to be a better way to equip skilled immigrants and refugees with the skills needed to rebuild their careers and contribute their talents to U.S. employers. This simple idea has grown tremendously over the last 15 years into a national organization that has placed more than 1,950 new Americans into professional jobs.
 
In 2013 UpGlo received a grant from the New Economy Initiative to launch Professional Licensing Guides in Michigan. These guides cover 11 key professions including physician, engineer, accountant, and physical therapist; providing job seekers with a clear picture of the steps, costs, and timeline for relicensing in their career field in Michigan. UpGlo has also engaged more than 40 unique employers in Southeast Michigan, and has already directly facilitated five professional job placements at an average starting salary of $45,750. All told, these jobs have resulted in $272,000 in increased annual income to immigrant and refugee families in the metro area who have training in high-demand professions such as health care, engineering, and IT.
 
UpGlo has built very successful working relationships with the Global Detroit initiative, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulation (LARA), and other regional and state workforce groups including Global Michigan, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the Workforce Intelligence Network. Collaboration with these agencies and organizations, especially LARA, has allowed UpGlo to prioritize fields like engineering to recruit and train the global professionals who are vital to Southeast Michigan’s workforce.
 
Upwardly Global has also focused on expanding its regional employer engagement and network building. Their employer network includes a number of top Michigan companies and recruiting firms covering a broad range of professional fields, including engineering, accounting and finance, health care, and IT. UpGlo’s newest employer partner, Kyyba, recruits for open positions at Chrysler, often sourcing for more than 150 open roles in engineering and IT fields. Other partners such as North American Bancard, which sources for candidates in customer service and the financial services fields, actively search for candidates with bilingual skills and global experience. Henry Ford Health System recognizes the value that candidates with professional medical experience from their home country offer.
 
Overall, UpGlo has engaged over 40 companies and organizations, assisting them to tap into the growing global talent pool. Filling open positions with these employers supports our efforts to revitalize the local economy and make Southeast Michigan a more welcoming and competitive destination for both job seekers and employers. In partnership with Accenture, UpGlo will also facilitate two upcoming mock interview events that will connect 10-15 job seekers with Accenture volunteers who can assist them with interview skills. The organization plans to expand this corporate volunteer opportunity to other employers in the region.
 
The stories of Amr, an IT professional for Syria, and Ahmed and Ruaa, medical residents from Iraq, demonstrate the success that UpGlo has already achieved in Michigan:
 
Amr

Amr arrived in the United States from Syria in December 2012. Despite a strong skillset and seven years of experience in his home country, he spent his first nine months seeking employment with no results. He learned about Upwardly Global through ACCESS and joined the online training program in September 2013 where staff worked with him on targeting alternative positions and revising his resume. He also practiced interviewing with volunteers at the Accenture office in Southfield.  In January, Amr was hired as an IT Team Leader at a growing employer in Plymouth, Michigan where he is happy to again be working in his field and filling an in-demand position within the southeast Michigan economy.
 
“I would not be here without the help of Upwardly Global. It was the only organization I found that helps professional people suffering from underemployment,” said Amr. “When I meet [other immigrants] and they ask me how to get back to work in this country, I say ‘the problem is not you, it’s your resume.’ ”
 
Ahmed Hamdi and Ruaa Al-Ward

Husband and wife Ahmed Hamdi and Ruaa Al-Ward, both 29, met in medical school in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. Three years later, amid the violence of civil war, they left their home country for Jordan where they continued their medical training in the hopes of eventually resettling and restarting their lives in the United States.
Both worked unpaid internships at a hospital in Jordan and learned as much as they could about the requirements to re-enter a medical career in the U.S. They spent months studying and completed two of the three-part United States Medical Licensing Examination, despite the fact that their futures remained uncertain. In the spring of 2013 they were granted refugee status—and were notified that their departure date to their new home in Ann Arbor, Mich. was two weeks away.
 
“It was a mixed feeling of happiness and fear,” Ahmed said. “We had been waiting for this for forever, but it was going into the unknown and we would have to start all over again.”
 
Ahmed and Ruaa were determined to waste no time in pursuit of their American dream. Through the resettlement services organization Jewish Family Services, the couple learned about Upwardly Global and applied for the Online Employment Training Program for skilled immigrants. UpGlo staff assisted the couple with crafting polished, U.S.-style resumes and connected them with physicians who coached them for their residency program interviews.

Because of their preparation, “we were more confident and more comfortable compared to the other candidates,” said Ruaa. “Overall it was an amazing experience.”
 
After more than 100 applications and nearly 20 interviews between the two of them, both were recently accepted to an internal medicine residency program in Flint, Mich., which they will begin this summer. They are looking forward to putting down roots in their new community and are expecting their first child.
 
“A lot of people we know gave up on their medical degree when they came to the U.S.” Ahmed said. “It’s a very tough process, but it’s not impossible. We knew we wanted to start our new life here.”
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