Ukrainian Career Advisors Offer Inclusive Approach to Supporting Refugee Community

March 10, 2023

In early January, WorkSource Career Advisor and Manager Jermane Easterlin was conducting an activity during a staff meeting when one career advisor’s response to his question made him stop in his tracks. The question was about what they were thankful for. Marianna was a new hire to the team, and her answer was a simple one: the peaceful sky.

While the response was simple, the context was profound. Marianna and one other new employee, Oleksandr, are refugees from Ukraine who came to the US last year after Russia declared war on their country. Career TEAM, one of our WorkSource network organizations, hired them as career advisors in the WorkSource Pierce system. Their lived experience and ability to speak and write in multiple languages have helped better serve the influx of Ukrainian- and Russian-speaking refugees coming to Pierce County.

It is estimated that, as of last summer, more than 6,500 Ukrainian refugees have come to Washington since the start of the war, with more than 1,600 of those making Pierce County home. Another 2,000 are expected to arrive in 2023.

The WorkSource Pierce network has been making a concerted effort to find staff with lived experience, and it was a push from Career Advisor Alexandra Jones from Career TEAM who convinced them to seek out additional support for this population. It was at that moment during the staff meeting that Easterlin said he fully comprehended the magnitude of the work his team is doing and how impactful and important it is.

In January, Career TEAM hit the ground running with its two new employees. They increased outreach efforts to the refugee community in Pierce County, connecting with another partner in our workforce system, Tacoma Community House, which has been instrumental in supporting this population. They started holding weekly WorkSource information sessions in Ukrainian and Russian, and the response has been resounding. In the first two months of the year, nearly 100 refugees attended information sessions. Oleksandr and Marianna also assisted with translation at an event with Tacoma Community House with more than 200 people in attendance.

“We had the privilege of speaking in front of refugee job seekers and sharing valuable information about (WorkSource) programs,” Oleksandr said. “We explained to the job seekers all the benefits and advantages of using (WorkSource), and we were thrilled to see their eagerness to learn and take advantage of this fantastic opportunity.”

In those first two months, they also supported 15 people in completing in-demand training programs and 13 who transitioned into employment. An additional 11 are currently in training.

Easterlin said many of the refugees they’ve been working with had prominent positions in their home country as doctors and business leaders, and even Oleksandr was a lawyer. But unfortunately, this training and accreditation is not always directly transferable in the US. And due to the language barrier, many have struggled to connect with employment and acclimate to their new homes.

One pathway that has been fairly quick and successful, though, is obtaining a Commercial Driving License (CDL) and entering employment in trucking and transport. Easterlin said this is because driving a vehicle is a universal skill, and in Pierce County, the need for drivers with a CDL is growing. Over the last five years, these jobs have seen three times the growth rate of the labor force overall, and there were more than 400 active online job postings for CDL drivers in the last month.

Marianna and Oleksandr, the two full-time Ukrainian career advisors, have been able to help many of the job seekers who speak languages other than English coming into the WorkSource Pierce Center. They’ve also provided support at various hiring and outreach events, like a recent job fair where 41 of the attendees were Ukrainian refugees.

“It’s all about inclusivity and allowing us to offer the best service we can,” Easterlin said. “It’s just amazing seeing the heart they have to serve.”

The WorkSource network is passionate about helping individuals find meaningful employment that not only provides financial stability but also contributes to personal and professional growth, Oleksandr said. “We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive and succeed, regardless of their background or circumstances.”

All the providers within our WorkSource Pierce system are committed to serving immigrants and refugees seeking to join our local workforce. We intend to continue efforts to expand services by elevating people with lived experience to lead in those endeavors.

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