Throughout its history, 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 Rural Minnesota CEP’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, like childcare scarcities, 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.
Northwest Minnesota is home to 12,000 people who were foreign born. Nearly 4,000 come from Asia, another quarter come from Latin America. More recently, immigrants from Europe have been declining while people from Africa have increased in the region.
Since 2010, the number of net international migrants has increased to 3,378 people in the 26-county Northwest planning region. In fact, the number who have moved into the region since 2010 outweigh the 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. Of the four economic development regions, Region 4 had the highest number of international migrants with a gain of 1,798 (Table 1).
Within EDR 4, Moorhead, MN 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 Azad, “so in addition to skills training, we must address language and cultural barriers. It is an intense program.” Azad is currently the lead navigator working with new Americans on a Pathways to Prosperity project that provides training for work in the healthcare sector. The project includes English language training, a CPR class, and resume building, with the ultimate goal that participants become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA).
In addition to establishing career paths for new Americans, Azad 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 Azad is to connecting with their immigrant clients. A refugee of the first Gulf War, Azad 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. Azad’s network of immigrants and service providers has led to numerous intercultural connections, and strengthened the community of support services in the region. His supervisor, Theresa Hazeman, 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 its 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.