(Yalda Afif, HIAS)
Many refugees who come to the U.S. want to pursue meaningful careers that can provide upward mobility and enable them to support their families. This is particularly true for refugee women who face significant barriers to employment in their new countries, such as conflicting cultural norms and limited education or formal work experience.
HIAS, in partnership with UNIQLO, a clothing retailer with 2,000 stores across the globe, supports many refugee women on the road to economic independence. One year ago, HIAS and UNIQLO launched a pilot program called American Futures to provide employment and skills training to refugee women striving to build careers in the retail industry. Through this program, UNIQLO is hiring refugees as sales associates and seamstresses and supporting their professional development through retail training at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, NY.
After less than a year, one of the sales associates in the program has already been promoted to a full-time position, demonstrating refugees' potential for success when given opportunities for career development.
“For the past few years, I struggled a lot with finding a job and financially supporting my family,” said Pam*, who currently works as a full-time employee at UNIQLO. The support she received from HIAS was unparalleled, she said: “I feel very empowered and happy to be able to support myself and my family. Financial independence is the key to women empowerment.”
At the launch of American Futures, HIAS NY organized its first job fair in Queens, where more than 100 jobseekers were screened and interviewed by UNIQLO. Most of the applicants were women from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, and various Arab countries. The job fair was the first chance for many of these women to seek employment since their arrival in the U.S.
“It has been more than three years in the U.S., and I have not been able to secure employment in New York due to the language barrier and lack of professional experience,” said Susan*, who arrived in 2015 with her husband through the SIV program for former U.S. military interpreters. Following the job fair, a select number of participants attended an orientation organized by UNIQLO to learn about the company and its expectations for employees.
The American Futures program is part of HIAS’ gender-sensitive approach to economic empowerment and provides training in customer service, the English language, and financial literacy. Tailoring workforce programs for these women demonstrates that employment at UNIQLO is more than just about getting a job. The program helps women with building confidence and developing skills like communication, decision-making, and problem-solving that can help them achieve economic independence.
For employers, the program serves as a model for investing in workforce development to build human capital and reduce turnover. “Our experience has been very positive, and we have already seen a number of the participants flourish in their roles,” said Jean Shein, the director of Global Corporate Social Responsibility at UNIQLO. “The partnership certainly helped us further our qualitative objective to support refugees through our business.”
Building on the success of the American Futures program, HIAS hopes to embark on more partnerships to support the economic integration of refugees as they rebuild their lives in their new communities.
*Pseudonyms used for clients’ protection.