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International Institute works to connect new Americans with jobs

Daniel Onyancha and Marie Denise Uwizera testify before the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division Feb. 12 in support of a bill that would provide funding for new American workforce training. Photo by Andrew VonBank
Daniel Onyancha and Marie Denise Uwizera testify before the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division Feb. 12 in support of a bill that would provide funding for new American workforce training. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Marie Denise Uwizera works as a charge nurse at the same St. Paul nursing home where she got her start as a nursing assistant in 2006 – the year after she and her children moved from Rwanda to be reunited with her husband, who had been granted asylum in Minnesota.

Uwizera was able to get that first job, and then the support she needed to pursue a college degree, through the International Institute of Minnesota in St. Paul, a social service agency that provides a range of services including citizenship and English-language learner classes, refugee resettlement services, and workforce development programs.

“I wanted to keep going and have my degree,” Uwizera told the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division Tuesday. “The program helped me a lot, as it helps so many refugees and immigrants”

HF656 would help support the institute’s workforce training programs by appropriating $350,000 in Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, said bill sponsor Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville). It was laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. There is no Senate companion.

“This is a good, innovative model that is putting people to work and helping our economy,” Koznick said

Workforce development appropriation bill heard in House jobs division 2/12/19

The institute’s workforce programming focuses on helping new Americans find their first jobs in the United States while developing career pathways that can provide self-sufficiency and financial security, executive director Jane Graupman said.

The institute offers two major career pathways in the medical and hospitality fields. Both programs are tied to employment placement and ongoing support services, and boast high retention rates – something that is incredibly important in fields notorious for high turnover rates, she said.

The hospitality careers pathway provides a training program for hospital and nursing home dietary aides, hotel housekeeping, and advanced training for people who already work in the hospitality industry but want to move into supervisory roles.

The program is only 5 years old, but has placed 225 people in hospitality jobs, many of whom were unemployed when they entered, Graupman said.

The medical careers pathway consists of a nursing assistant training program, a college readiness academy, supplemental coursework, and individualized academic advising and support available through college and into early employment.

Many program participants who decide to pursue college education are even able to bypass remedial classes and move directly into coursework because of the institute’s preparatory programs, Graupman said.

The medical careers pathway program has helped to connect more than 2,700 people to jobs in health care. Of those, nearly 500 program participants have gone on to become nurses or pursue other advanced positions in the medical field, she said.

Between their initial enrollment and the year after placement, nursing assistant graduates see an average 350 percent annual income increase, according to the institute.

The people who come out of these programs are both extremely dedicated and hardworking, said Denise Sheets, recruitment and workforce strategy director for Presbyterian Homes, which hires nursing assistants trained at the institute.

Presbyterian Homes offers scholarships to employees who want to pursue nursing careers and are willing to work a minimum of 10 hours per week. While it’s normal for American-born employees to meet that requirement, immigrant employees tend to work 25 to 30 hours a week or maintain full-time schedules while also attending school, Sheets said.

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