Back home, highly skilled Minnesota refugees try to find fulfilling work

Vadym Holiuk has never looked so hard to work.

He landed a job as an electrical engineer for Ukrainian Railways right out of college. But after the Russian invasion forced him to flee to Minnesota, Holiuk’s godfather in Brooklyn Park helped him write a resume on a donated laptop and apply for 150 engineering and mining jobs. related.

Holiuk, 33, has landed a handful of interviews. He recently took a computer test at the post office to operate a mail sorting machine, but while he is almost fluent in English, he struggled to understand some technical words. Holiuk is yet to land an offer three months after arriving here.

“It’s disheartening because I know he’s been turned down jobs he’s really qualified for,” said his sponsor, Mark Norlander.

At least 280,000 Ukrainians and Afghans have resettled in the United States in the past 16 months. Among the many people jostling for work are professionals with advanced skills – engineers, doctors, military officers, teachers, scientists – who try to find jobs in the fields in which they excelled at home instead of accept the usual employment of refugees in factories, warehouses and retailers. Still, they may face obstacles ranging from US institutions that don’t accept their degrees to little guidance in white-collar job search.

This summer, the nonprofit Prosperity Ready organized entry-level vocational training for Afghan evacuees in manufacturing and hospitality. Founder and CEO Lisa Perez recalled being “devastated”. The talent, she says, “is just amazing and the work ethic, the credentials, the experience.” His organization also runs a course to help educated immigrants find jobs; the next starts on January 17. Half of the upcoming group is from Afghanistan.

“We are currently short by hundreds of thousands of workers in our state, and therefore to have such talented people sidelined – that is not acceptable,” Perez said. “There are applicable skills. That’s right, is there enough support from employers and community organizations to help them make this transition?”

She said the job market here is different from what they are used to.

“There are so many barriers, and there are some downright broken parts of our employment system,” Perez said. “It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how much experience you have.” Without someone’s help, she added, “it’s really, really difficult.”

The Toro Co., which provides solutions for the outdoor environment, gives presentations to Prosperity Ready immigrant students, and Perez introduced Afghan newcomer Fahim Loodin to the Bloomington-based company. Loodin had worked for Western companies in Afghanistan providing security and logistics services to the US government during the war, and began work in May at Toro as a customs compliance specialist in the Department of Global Commerce. It reminds him of his old working culture.

“I love my job,” Loodin said. “I like the environment.”

Zahidullah Zahid served as acting and deputy director general of the Afghan Nuclear Energy Agency, overseeing several hundred staff working on the effective use of nuclear technology techniques in medicine, agriculture, environment, public safety and other areas.

But he hasn’t worked since August 14, 2021, when he saw people running outside his office in Kabul saying the Taliban were coming. Zahid knew his life was in danger; its staff had received training and support from Western institutions, including Sandia National Laboratories. He and his family hid in safehouses after the Taliban took over. They spent five months at a US military base in Qatar before coming to Minnesota in October.

He set about updating his resume. Zahid, 38, has a degree in biology from Kabul University and earned his master’s degree in protection against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear events from Tor Vergata University in Rome. He documented his extensive expertise in emergency preparedness and response, protection of radioactive sources; serve as a chemical and biological weapons interdiction agent; collaborate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other major international organizations; and traveling to cities across Europe over the past decade for conferences and training. These trips, as he noted on his curriculum vitae, included participation in a NATO regional cooperation course in Rome and a preparatory committee for a conference in Geneva on the Biological Weapons Convention.

“It’s a new place for me, a new environment – from scratch you have to work for yourself, for your family,” he told the Star Tribune in a meeting two weeks after his death. arrived with his wife and seven children. “And I know I can’t find a job in my field…because they don’t accept school documents from other countries.”

Zahid wondered if he should work in a supermarket or deliver pizza, and how that would affect him mentally. Zahid, who is fluent in English, wants to work in emergency preparedness and response, or at least a people management job in an office like he is used to. While waiting for his official work permit, he applied for a few jobs online. His brother’s friend contacted a state legislator to link Zahid with a job at Xcel Energy, and Zahid plans to enroll in Prosperity Ready’s job search program.

In his new home in Eagan this week, Zahid was noticeably more upbeat as he sipped green tea: “I’m 100 percent sure I can get a good job here, but it takes time.”

He’s ready to take an exam and get more training, he said, but he’s found navigating the U.S. job market overwhelming at times. “There’s no proper system available where you can go and submit your documents and say, ‘I’m good at this, I have expertise in this, please find me a use.'”

The Minnesota International Institute noted that it has worked with a series of refugees on their job searches. The agency said it helped a Ukrainian man land a job as a math teacher at Dunwoody College of Technology; he helped a Ukrainian refugee with a legal background connect with the Mitchell Hamline School of Law to complete her law degree and network with local lawyers and a retired judge.

The institute also helped a Ukrainian network of software designers and secured job interviews, as well as an Afghan client with CVs and cover letters for his job search after a career in international agencies, banks and non-profit organizations running infrastructure and housing development programs.

Reza Haidari, 25, was an Afghan air force officer who was halfway through his training in Slovakia to become a helicopter pilot. Then the Taliban took over and he couldn’t go home. He fled to the United States and first found work as a janitor. Then Haidari moved up to medical assembler at Medtronic for $22 an hour. But he misses flying.

“If I could get any kind of job in the Air Force, I’d love it…to be honest, I’m totally lost,” said Haidari, who lives in Richfield. “I have no idea what to do here. I’m looking for any purpose in my life.”

Holiuk arrived in Minnesota in late September with his wife, 2-year-old daughters and 11-year-old twin daughters. They recently moved into an apartment in Brooklyn Park and he feels the pressure to find work soon. He said he had not heard of an employment counselor assigned to him when he received public assistance from Hennepin County.

He wrote a cover letter to the railroad companies explaining how the war had prepared him for the job: “Because we had to leave our home, for the safety of my wife and 3 children, I had to adapt to new and unexpected circumstances and learn many new things. I hope to use this ability to adapt and learn quickly in my work to [a new job].”

Holiuk said he misses working.

“I apply for jobs every day,” he said. “If I get a call for a business and they say, ‘Can you go to work the next day?’ I say yes, because I want to work.”

Leave a Reply