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Western N.Y. workforce training program helps refugees get jobs

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For many refugees, leaving home and coming to the United States is not easy.

“It was difficult for me to stay in Afghanistan, you know, it was too difficult and hard,” said Hikmatullah Samandar, an Afghanistan refugee and a student in the workforce training program at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business. “My family, they’re still back in Afghanistan and so it’s only me who made it out.”

And finding employment can be even harder. It’s something the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business is trying to help with through their workforce training program.

“The main objective of this program is to empower refugees and immigrants with hospitality skills so to secure job employment and to establish a stable income,” said Jerrie Hsieh, professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the Saunders College of Business.

The program started in 2022, but this year is the program’s biggest class of refugees yet, with the first session focused on the hospitality industry.

“More and more immigrants and refugees are coming to Rochester and, on the other hand, the hospitality industry is looking for more and more employees and the hospitality industry provides a variety of job opportunities from the entry level skill job to the managerial skill job,” said Hsieh.

It’s those diverse offerings that makes the classes a win-win for refugees and the hospitality industry, which continues to experience labor shortages.

“Its good for me to be here and meet new people and learn something, you know, and then I’ll probably have more opportunities to get a job,” said Samandar.

“Especially in the hospitality industry, there’s lots of room for them to show their differences. So their differences are going to be welcomed there because they’re also going to turn into skills and advantages there,” said Muhammet Kesgin, an associate professor at Saunders College of Business.

The class teaches more than just job skills. It also also teaches about life skills.

“The importance of welcoming any guest, welcoming any stranger, welcoming refugees or immigrants is a critical thing,” Kesgin said. “All these refugees and immigrants are the guests here and we need to show them hospitality and Im glad as a hospitality program we’re trying to show them hostility but we’re also trying to show them how to show hospitality to others.”

“I’m gonna learn step by step, you know it’s gonna take a while but I’m gonna learn,” said Samandar.

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