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Arizona refugees finding jobs through help of local organizations

(AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

PHOENIX — When refugees come to Arizona from other countries, it can be difficult for them to get used to their new surroundings. There is a group in the Phoenix area that helps them adjust to life in the United States and helps them find a job. They have partnered with a local electrical contractor that has made it a goal to hire refugees.

One group that some refugees turn to upon arrival in Arizona is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). They hold English classes and cultural orientations to help refugees adjust to the rules and responsibilities of living in America. Federal funding, along with the help of local churches and individuals, allow them to set up refugee families in an apartment.

“From the moment that we pick them up from the airport, we give them that key,” said Nicky Walker, development manager at the IRC Phoenix. “This is sometimes the first time that family is going to have a door to lock [or] a roof over their heads.”

Walker said refugees that enter the United States go through extensive and lengthy background checks before they even get on the plane. Once they get to Arizona, the IRC also gives refugees the tools they need to find jobs. That includes pre-employment training, placement assistance and job fairs.

“Our program really focuses on self-sufficiency,” Walker said. “We want to make sure that people know and understand how to get a job.”

Austin Electric, a Phoenix-area company, wanted to hire refugees, and approached the IRC. The electrical contractor started a refugee hiring program to offset a labor shortage the company has dealt with since the economic recession. The program has hired and trained several refugees from countries throughout the world.

“As far as the caliber of employee, they’re fantastic,” said Troy Barbush, training program coordinator at Austin Electric. “We will continue to utilize the different refugee places and we’re going to continue to try to grow this program.”

Shafie is one refugee that works for Austin Electric. He grew up in Myanmar, a country ruled by the military for years. He faced tough conditions in that country and feared for his safety. He eventually moved to Malaysia and lived there for several years. Shafie faced tough times there as well, although he did work in the electric trade. When the opportunity arose to live in the United States, Shafie took it, and now works as an electrical installer.

“[In the United States], I think my life is better for me [and] more safe,” Shafie said.

Shafie took part in Austin Electric’s training program, and now trains other refugees who come through the program. He said he is very grateful for the chance to live and work in Arizona.


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