Refugees need to be integrated, not isolated, and Utahns have the compassion and capacity to make it happen. The state’s vast multilingual capabilities, successful public/private partnerships and culture of volunteerism are being marshaled to help refugees develop the life skills needed to become self-reliant and contributing members of the community.
The Utah approach stands in contrast to the European model, where refugees can be stuck in legal limbo for long periods until they are granted refugee status and allowed to join the workforce. The delays in European Union countries put a tremendous strain on social welfare programs, thus building resentment among the locals and eroding self-fulfillment among the refugees.
In Utah, the focus on integration through language and job skills is not only beneficial for refugees; it is beneficial for Utah employers and the economy. That is because the No. 1 challenge to the state’s continued economic growth is a lack of trained workers. The challenge faced by employers was highlighted in a report released last week by the nonpartisan Utah Foundation, which found that over 70 percent of companies reported difficulty in finding skilled employees. Further, over 30 percent of companies identified the labor shortage as the greatest challenge to their growth.
Assisting refugees to integrate into Utah communities by developing workforce skills and finding employment is the mission of the Refugee Education and Training Center. The center opened this year as a partnership among the Department of Workforce Services, Salt Lake Community College and Utah State University to provide refugees language and workforce training. These efforts are complementary to the life-skills training provided by a myriad of Utah organizations, including Catholic Community Services, International Rescue Committee, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah Refugee Center, Granite School District, the English Skills Learning Center and the Refugee Family Mentor Program.
According to a study from Utah State University, this training is exactly what is needed for refugees to be successful in their new home. It all starts with the ability to speak, read and write in English, which is a major focus of the Refugee Education and Training Center. The partnership with Salt Lake Community College and Utah State University also provide refugees access to higher-education training programs. Other services, such as understanding job application processes and writing resumes, are also provided at the center.
Ultimately, these efforts give refugees the ability to succeed in well-paying jobs, with the objective to support themselves and their families. A good example is found in the workforce development initiative that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Department of Workforce Service has begun with aerospace companies in the advanced composites manufacturing industry. As part of this initiative, unemployed and underemployed Utahns, including refugees, receive skills training in this growing economic cluster at Salt Lake Community College and Davis Applied Technology College, with the promise of a job interview at the successful completion of the classes.
Integrating refugees through education and training is just the kind of win-win solution that has worked well for the tens of thousands of refugees who have come to Utah over the past several decades from all over the world. Constant improvement in the delivery of these services will ensure these successes continue for the more than 1,000 refugees that settle in Utah each year.
For a state that has over 130 languages spoken in daily commerce, enjoys international business that creates a $4 billion trade surplus, and touts more dual-immersion students than anywhere else in the nation, Utah is uniquely positioned to show the way on how to effectively assist refugees. It is good for Utah’s businesses. It is good for Utah’s economy. And it is good for all of us, whether you’re a seventh-, second- or first-generation Utahn.
Derek B. Miller is the president & CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT) and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.