Some 2 million highly skilled, college educated immigrants and refugees are unemployed or working in low-level jobs in the U.S., even as employers seek to fill in-demand jobs and diversify their workforces, according to Upwardly Global. The organization is the first and longest-serving matchmaker of these two groups.
“Up Glo” fills a gap that Sisay Semere Filate labored in before finding a job that fit his background: energy consultant at DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU). Today, when he does an energy audit of your home or business, you can be sure he’s an expert. Being an asylum-seeker didn’t prevent his company from hiring him. But it took Up Glo to help him adapt his former work life to an American context so he could snag such a job.
Sisay, a chemical engineer from Ethiopia, credits Up Glo with training him to go for a position in his chosen field after a series of jobs for which he was overqualified when he came to the U.S. two years ago.
Sisay in shown here with Upwardly Global's President and CEO, Nikki Cicerani.
The youngest of six children in Addis Ababa , Sisay had shone as a scholar, teaching at university for two years after his graduation in 2009. However, encountering ominous political problems, he took advantage of a scholarship to pursue advanced degrees in the energy field in Spain and Germany.
Seeking asylum in Washington, DC
A conference on hydropower drew him in 2015 to Washington, DC, where he sought asylum based on fear of persecution if he returned to his country. For nine months, he lived with friends and found low-level jobs while waiting for a work authorization. One day, on the job in a restaurant, he met someone who knew someone at SolarCity, a company he pitched to customers for a few months at Home Depot and Best Buy. A starter job.
A savvy job-seeker, Sisay was on LinkedIn, where a recruiter’s phone call led to an energy analyst job with PEG, LLC, a consultant for energy efficient homes. A good first professional job, but he knew he was capable of more.
Then he heard about Upwardly Global from a friend. He went in with a good resume, he says, but they made it better. In their free training program, he found online courses, on-site teaching, and networking with volunteers, employers and peers in his field, as well as professional licensing guides. He learned cultural tips like, “American people like numbers,” he says, referring to performance outcomes. They also like applicants to look them in the eye during an interview, contrary to the etiquette he was raised with.
“In my culture, we are designed that the employer gives you a job, not that he needs your skill in his team. So, the employer expects you to give him the utmost respect and fear. However, here in the States, you have to look into the employer's eye and show him you have the skill, the capacity and the confidence to accomplish your task on time and to the standard.”
“They boosted my confidence”
Although Sisay searched companies on his own, Up Glo’s coach helped him enormously, he says, especially in the interview process. After one interview, he wanted to follow up with the employer right away. “I was impatient. I told my advisor/mentor, ‘They haven’t called me back. Shouldn’t I call?’ She said, ‘No, wait one week.’”
The best thing Up Glo did for him?
“They boosted my confidence. After I did my training, I said to myself, yes, I’m qualified for this.”
Sisay got several job interviews, two resulting in offers. Perhaps surprisingly, no employers asked to see his academic transcripts, which showed that his credits were transferable. Instead, DCSEU gave him a take-home assignment: solve nine difficult energy efficiency questions. No problem: he was hired.
Since May, he has undertaken energy audits for businesses, residences, and the government – notably an analysis of new energy-saving lighting for the National Mall. [See above photo.' He loves his job.
“I have a wide range of learning opportunities. We want the District of Columbia to be Number 1 in energy efficiency! I’m very passionate about energy efficiency and climate change. That is one of the reasons I drive a Prius and try to reduce my impact on the environment.”
With that passion as a driver of his success, it’s no surprise that Upwardly Global considers him a success story. In August, Nikki Cicerani, the company’s president and CEO, invited him to accompany her on a “Thank you” visit to Capitol Hill. Although his application for asylum may take up to a year, Sisay has already found his professional niche and made an appearance in the halls of Congress.
RPCVs mentoring refugees and asylum-seekers can direct them to Upwardly Global’s website to fill out an application for free training. Or contact one of their regional offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Silver Spring, MD. See www.upwardlyglobal.org.