New workforce program aims to help build professional networks for foreign-born residents and strengthen communal ties

By: Neil Strebig

Earlier today the Change Agency announced the launch of the Pittsburgh Connector Program, an All for All initiative to improve workforce inclusion.

Syrian immigrant Tarek Domat spoke during the press conference, addressing the criticism he routinely received after job interviews was minimal, oftentimes leading him to doubt himself and his abilities.

“The feedback I got was always either I am overqualified or have no relevant job experience,” said Domat, a healthcare professional with master’s degrees from Duquesne University and the University of Scranton. “But there were times where I felt the reason was my name, where I came from, my accent or lack of connections … [it] made me feel I wasn’t good enough.”

The Pittsburgh Connector Program is modeled after the Halifax Connection Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Canadian program has helped over 3,000 participants and contributed to more than 1,700 jobs, according to Robin Webb, founder of the Halifax Connection Program.

Tarek Domat shares his immigration story with the audience during a press conference for the Pittsburgh Connector Program on Thursday, June 7 at Nova Place. Photo by Neil Strebig

“Building experience is as important as building relationships. The Connector Program is about opening those doors,” said All for All co-chair Fred Thiemen.

The goal is to help expand the professional networks for qualified foreign-born candidates who often experience difficulties assimilating to a new culture amidst the search for employment.

During the press conference Andrew Moore, Dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science,  cited a number of difficulties for immigrants. Moore, who emigrated to the U.S. from England, highlighted that nearly half of America’s tech start-ups are created by immigrants, yet was quick to point out “we’re not all that great at opening the door.”

“It is quite a thing to feel like you’re not quite part of a community,” Moore said in regards to the professional and personal isolation felt by many immigrants.

The program is based on a networking strategy. Connectors (Pittsburgh residents, potential employers) will invite connectees (foreign-born residents) to a 30-minute information interview, educate them on their respective professional field of interest and introduce them to at least three more contacts within the respective industry. The goal is to help open the door for immigrants and make the transition to a new community and workforce easier for immigrants and refugees. Change Agency founder Betty Cruz applauded the “simplicity” of the program.

“Connectees expand their networks and learn more about their communities. Connectors get exposed to community members with a range of backgrounds and experiences,” Cruz said.

The Pittsburgh Connector Program will rely on an online platform to help streamline the process and connectivity between connectors and participants. Pittsburgh is the third American city to implement a Connector Program; similar workforce initiatives are already established in Detroit and St. Louis. The launch comes on the heels of Change Agency’s announcement for the second All for All Summit, which highlights and promotes immigrant inclusion strategies throughout Allegheny County.

“Let’s continue to build bridges, open doors and be a welcoming community for everyone,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

For more information on the program, visit Change Agency’s website.