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A diverse solution to your labor woes.
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This story appears in the May 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The United States has long been a haven to immigrants and refugees, many of whom don't speak English but who need jobs while they learn the language and adjust to American life. Hiring these workers not only helps them get on their feet but, in this tight labor market, may also help you fill some badly needed positions, says Peter Bickford, human resources director for Barber Foods, a poultry processor in Portland, Maine.

Barber Foods has more than quadrupled its work force in the past decade. In addition to U.S.-born workers, the company employs people from Vietnam, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, among others.

Bickford points out that many immigrants and refugees are well educated and have desirable job skills, and most speak at least a nominal amount of English. He suggests first determining the minimum language skills you require so employees can work safely and respond to basic instructions. Then contact your local adult education center or the refugee resettlement organization in your area (many are operated by the Catholic Social Service or may be found by calling the closest office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service) and let them know what types of employees you're looking for. They'll help you find appropriate people and set up training for them to become proficient in English.

An added bonus to hiring immigrants and refugees comes in the area of diversity. "Forty-three percent of our work force was not born in this country," Bickford says, "which means that cultural diversity in our company is self-building and self-perpetuating." Such diversity, he adds, is professionally and individually enriching.

Contact Sources

Barber Foods, P.O. Box 4821, Portland, ME 04112, (207) 772-1934, ext. 365

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