Employing Buffalo's immigrants & refugees

Sep 12, 2012

As the city of Buffalo's immigrant population increases, the International Institute is striving to help them find jobs. 

Thursday the International Career and Resource fair will be bringing some area employers together with Buffalo's immigrant and refugee population.

WBFO & AM-970's Eileen Buckley says some International Institute clients are already finding success in the workplace.

"My name is Sui Cung. I'm from Burma," said  Sui Cung. Cung is striving for a new life in the Queen city.  He arrived in Buffalo just eight months ago from Burma, but he is already working at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Buffalo.   Cung works in housekeeping at the hotel.

The Hyatt is among several area employers participating in the International Institute's Refugee Employment program.

"We're very, very happy.  We'd like to have more," said Jay Dellavecchia, general manager at the Hyatt .  He praised the Institute's program.

Jay Dellavecchia, general manager at the Hyatt
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

"We've hired just about 30 since we partner with them, and about eight of them have won employee of the month.  That's phenomenal," said Dellavecchia.

Housekeeping and stewards are two areas are immigrants are working in at the Hyatt, but Dellavecchia said the hotel would like to expand into other areas at its restaurant,  valet parking and front desk.

"We had one that's already promoting from stewarding into our restaurant area. I see him moving up as as a sever.  He is management material," said Dellevecchia.  "Extremely great work ethic.  They come to work, they do a great job, they care, they get feedback, their terrific."

The International Institute provides a support system preparing immigrants and refugees for the job market. They are coached, trained and mentored.

"So immigrants and refugees who are coming to Western New York, by the thousands, are really gold.  They are really a valuable resource when it comes to our workforce, both our current workforce and our future workforce," said  Eva Hassett, executive director at the International Institute. 

Hassett emphasizes the need to educate the community and employers that the city's immigrant and refugee population is the future workforce.

"And it is a highly motivated, highly employable workforce that's really easy to work with.  And so I think that is part of the message that we want to bring to the larger community -- is that this is really the workforce that we should all be focusing on," said Hassett.

The stream of immigrants mainly come to Buffalo from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq. Denise Beehag is director of Reguee Services. She said  they all need jobs. 

"It's really interesting to understand that refugees to understand when they come here they have a loan that they have to pay back to the U.S. government.   So it is very important to them, right away, to start to earn money, not only to pay this loan back, but to support their own families," said Beehag.

The Institute provides employment center provides as much training and hands on experience to their clients -- boosting their changes of getting a local job.  

Eve Williams is a job developer at the Institute.  She said they've responded to employer feedback.          

"One of the companies said okay would I would really like them to have a little more hands on to be able to see what they are cleaning," said Williams.  "We've done field trips so they can go and look at this is what a hotel looks like."

It also quells any fears from potential employers that an immigrant is able to do the job.

"The majority of them that I have spoken to have heard rumors. They've heard the rumors that there is a wonderful population and they need to tap into," said Williams. 

"So far the people we've hired in the prepared foods department, starting off as dishwashers, and one person who has moved on to food prep," said Elaine Gliszczynski, human resource manager at the Lexington Co-Op on Elwmood Avenue in Buffalo.

Elaine Gliszczynski, human resources manager at Lexington Co-Op
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

The Lexington is another local employer that has  participated in the employment program.  The Lexington has hired three clients from the Institute.

"One of our cooks was a cook in Burma," said Gliszczynski.

Both Gliszcyznski and Hyatt Manager Dellavecchia said the only issue is language.

"Most of the day to day task and communications, on the job, are executed ver well.  Some people come in with a higher command of the language better than others," but when we are talking about more complex things...we might bring in an interpreter," noted Gliszcyznski.

Inside Lexington Co-Op, Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

"That's probably been the biggest obstacle.," said Dellavecchia.

Both the Hyatt and Lexington Co-Op highly recommend other local employers consider hiring  Buffalo's newest population.

"I would say overcome your fears, especially because you have such an asset in the International Institute, so it's not like you are going into it blind," said Gliscynski.

Gliszcynski agrees with the International Institute -- that the immigrants and refugees will be the future workforce.  She says it would be "smart" of employers to help ensure immigrants are connected to to employment so they can survive in the local economy and fully function as citizens.