Interns are generally stereotyped as students seeking to explore a new field and build their resumes. But what if they were trained professionals already armed with bona fide experience in the relevant industry who just need a break?
Thanks to a new internship program created by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), employers in the metro Atlanta area can fill gaps in their workforce by tapping into adult refugees’ professional talents.
The Atlanta office of IRC, a nonprofit that has helped resettle more than 26,500 refugees from 67 countries since its inception in 1979, is taking requests from local businesses for interns with specific skills, and the IRC will find a match, augmenting their existing capabilities with even more training.
“We are providing training for future interns, and we want to tailor that training for each employer,” said Lauren Bowden, career development coordinator at the IRC.
Beginning this month, the organization’s education team will offer an Integrated Education in Training (IET) program, which provides tailored English-as-a-Second-Language and Microsoft Office classes to its clients while they are completing vocational training.
“If a company needs specific Excel capabilities, for example, we can help our clients get those skills. It’s basically like subsidized training for the employers,” said Ms. Bowden, who helps refugees re-enter the job market.
Atlanta logistics company Kuehne + Nagel International AG, which has been a supporter of German apprenticeships and other exchanges, was the first company to participate in IRC’s “adult internship” program.
K+ N Southeast Regional Vice President Juergen Gentzke said the company has been extremely pleased with the two IRC refugee interns working at his company, so they have recently hired a third and are considering a fourth.
“This [refugee internship] program is really cool. We have 400 people here at our facilities at the airport, and there are 43 nationalities. I think the refugees appreciate our international environment and not being the only one from Pakistan or Lithuania or another country,” Mr. Gentze told Global Atlanta. “Having such a diverse team works extremely well in our environment. The world is very small.”
This program is really cool. We have 400 people here at our facilities at the airport, and there are 43 nationalities. – Juergen Gentzke of Kuehne & Nagel
Mr. Gentzke said that having interns from other countries is an advantage because they can often understand local challenges in K + N’s international markets. The refugees are “super eager to learn and very open minded,” and, after the difficult situations they have been through, they are resilient and bring fresh perspectives to the business, he added.
One of the K + N interns, a middle-aged woman from Pakistan, had niche information technology skills, including “scrum,” or software troubleshooting. She had professional experience in IT and was a “wiz in Excel” but was having difficulty breaking into the industry in the United States, Ms. Bowden said.
Her talents fit K + N’s needs, so the company hired her under its existing internship program that normally brings international students to work in the Atlanta office. With COVID-19 travel restrictions, hiring IRC refugees who are already in Atlanta is a great alternative, Mr. Gentzke explained.
And, unlike student interns who can typically only stay for 18 months or less, refugee interns can “stay for good,” he noted. K + N pays IRC candidates $13.50 an hour for 12- to 18-month contracts.
“We are super happy with them,” Mr. Gentzke said, adding that he is looking to hire the interns permanently after six months or one year and is reviewing resumes from additional IRC refugees to continue the program.
Internship contracts with IRC refugees can be tailored to each company, depending on the company’s capabilities and needs, Ms. Bowden said.
Through the free IET training, the IRC is helping make its refugee clients’ resumes more attractive to local companies. It takes about one month for refugees to complete the training program and move from low to expert proficiency, Ms. Bowden said.
“It’s only as beneficial to us as it is mutually beneficial,” Ms. Bowden said of the training program’s value for local employers and refugees alike.
The IRC is the largest refugee resettlement agency in Georgia. It helps some 3,500 refugees and other immigrants each year with resettlement and immigration services, education classes, employment assistance and health programs.
“Lots of our clients want to become self-sufficient. We help them get their first job, but then they come back later to get skills and advice when they are ready to transition to more professional roles,” Ms. Bowden said.
IRC clients come from a variety of backgrounds, countries and skill levels. Some may have not had formal schooling, while others are highly skilled professionals who had ample work experience in their home countries.
Approximately one-third of IRC new arrivals are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Others are from Ethiopia and Myanmar, and some worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan. All are looking to leverage their skills, talents and education.
Because of recent U.S. travel bans, the IRC has not been welcoming as many refugees from Syria, Iraq or Iran, said IRC Communications Coordinator Fiona Freeman.
The IRC has been pleased with the K + N internship partnership and hopes to expand the program to other Atlanta companies, Ms. Bowden said.
“My hope is to have more partners and maybe a few dedicated internships posted for refugees in Georgia,” she said.
“We are not asking for guaranteed placement; we just want to be able to make introductions [between refugees and companies]. We hope we are training people for the needs of Atlanta employers.”