Idaho’s got talent

Anne Wallace Allen//June 27, 2016

Idaho’s got talent

Anne Wallace Allen//June 27, 2016

Anne Wallace AllenInternships play an important role in the national discussion about job training.

They’re a useful way for companies to help the newly graduated gain job skills and soft skills, and they’re helpful for job-seekers who want to try out a position or a place of employment.

A Boise organization has created an internship program that focuses not only on the newly graduated, but on the newly arrived. It’s called Global Talent Idaho and it helps skilled immigrants, be they refugees or other newcomers, find a place in a local workplace where they can experience the culture, language, and expectations of a U.S. workplace. There are already programs in Idaho to help unskilled workers find positions in the local labor market. Global Talent focuses on foreign-trained workers who worked in professional jobs in their home countries, but don’t have the language skills or credentials to do those jobs in the U.S.

Global Talent started up last year in response to the reality that hundreds of refugees and other immigrants move to Idaho with advanced degrees, leaving their careers behind. They are trained as scientists, doctors, engineers, accountants, journalists, teachers, marketers, and nurses. Their skills are badly needed by Idaho companies, but often their English isn’t good enough for them to take up their work where they left it at home. They end up underemployed, and the local economy misses out on their skills.

Global Talent has formed a partnership with the Idaho Department of Labor for its internship program. DOL pays the interns’ wages and workers compensation for up to 480 hours of work.

The program carries huge benefits to the refugee. One is a chance to learn important lessons about workplace culture in the United States. Some of the things we take for granted at work here in Boise can seem pretty foreign to people from other countries. I know from the experience of working abroad that in the U.S., people here tend to value a spirit of egalitarianism more than they do in other places. That means no matter how grand your title or impressive your credentials, if you’re the boss, you’re more likely to be respected by all if you are also willing to roll up your sleeves and contribute to almost any task when needed, no matter how lowly.

This is not the case in some other cultures. In a lot of countries, workers are expected to stay within strictly prescribed roles. So, when the trainers at Global Talent work with newcomers, they let them know that if they find an internship in one of Idaho’s small businesses, they’ll be expected to do whatever is needed at the time, just like everyone else there.

Another benefit for the refugees is the exposure to English. Language is a huge impediment to progress for some skilled and credentialed newcomers. Working around and using professional English all day is one of the best ways to become proficient.

There are clear advantages to employers and to the region, too. An internship gives a manager a chance to try out someone who doesn’t have traditional credentials and see if the match is a good one. Under the Global Talent program, the companies aren’t obliged to hire the intern; they’re just obligated to come up with work and some supervision.

It’s good for the region, too. It’s way better for the local economy to have a worker employed at his or her correct level, instead of having a highly trained person doing a job that doesn’t use his skills.

I have a soft spot for newcomers. My parents, both professionals, moved to the U.S. from Australia when they were in their late 20s and managed to carve out careers for themselves while learning how to drive on the right side of the road, adjusting to local customs, and deciphering the elementary school enrollment process. My dad was probably the only guy bringing a Vegemite sandwich to work. It can’t have been easy, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for people who are also mid-career and tackling an unfamiliar language.

As everyone knows, the U.S. is a nation built by immigrants. Helping these brave people to find their best place here enriches life for all of us.

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.