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8 Reasons Refugees May Be Ideal Way to Address Serious Labor Shortage

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A new crop of refugees might provide some labor shortage solutions for roofers willing to work with government agencies and nonprofits who can connect them.

Supply chain issues have taken center stage lately as a key roofing roadblock. Roofers know there’s a bigger issue—labor shortages. But a new crop of refugees might provide some relief for roofers willing to work with government agencies and nonprofits who can connect them.

To that end, NRCA put out a guide to hiring refugees, noting that “Now is a great time to consider this option given the thousands of refugees who are in the process of being resettled in the U.S. from Afghanistan.”

Though the guidance is due to NRCA member requests, the organization is unaware of any roofers who have actually hired refugees, said Duane Musser, NRCA’s VP of government relations. " . . . It does take a concerted effort and modest upfront investment to hire refugees who come through the official resettlement process and then make sure they get the support needed to be successful in their new jobs,” Musser said.

But given the need, roofers like Gary Howes may be willing to make that effort. Howes, COO of The Durable Slate Company in Columbus Ohio, said the labor shortage is the most pressing issue facing his firm right now. He estimates that he could do as much as 30 percent more work if he could find qualified workers, especially amid recent severe weather.

“We have far more work than we can get to, and it’s really unfortunate because it’s not just a cosmetic thing,” he said. “We have lots of calls in New Orleans from the hurricane that we’re struggling to get to. The demand is high, and it’s been high for some time. We’re not the only contractor struggling with the issue. It’s the whole industry.”

Musser added that virtually all NRCA members report difficulties finding qualified workers. “Over the long term we expect workforce shortages to continue to be the largest single challenge facing our members,” he said.

Hiring refugees to address the need offers numerous benefits beyond filling worker slots, according to the U.S. Employers’ Guide To Hiring Refugees, from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which has been resettling refugees since 1939. According to the guide, those benefits include:

  1. As many refugees who arrive in the United States have spent years in refugee camps or environments where they were unable to work, they are typically excited about their newfound ability to provide for themselves and their families. They are highly motivated and resilient workers, and they often tend to be more flexible in the shifts they want to work (such as taking the night shift to allow them time to go to English courses during the day).
     
  2. Employers can also take great comfort in the fact that refugees have passed extremely intense background and security checks. As the U.S. Department of State notes, “refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.”
     
  3. Employers report that refugees remain employed with their companies for longer periods of time than typical U.S. employees.
     
  4. Companies that hire refugees may also, in certain circumstances, qualify for federal tax credits through the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which is available to employers who hire individuals that receive cash assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF) and food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) from the government.
     
  5. Research has shown that a diverse staff, in general, is a smart business move. The Center for American Progress notes that a diverse workforce is necessary to be competitive in a global market and that recruiting from a diverse pool of candidates will ensure a more qualified workforce able to leverage the company’s full potential.
     
  6. Additionally, a recent Forbes Insights study found that diversity fosters innovation, finding that having staff with varied experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds is critical to the development of new ideas. They also note that having a diverse workforce can bring a company a positive reputation and attract new talent, as individuals want to work for companies that value different cultures and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.
     
  7. Hiring refugees can strengthen a company’s brand by demonstrating that a company is living its values.

Musser added: “Now is a great time to explore the potential opportunities given the many refugees coming to the U.S. from Afghanistan in the coming months and years. Providing a refugee with the opportunity to start a new life in the UY.S. after they have been through the trauma of home their home country in what are almost always very adverse and even life-threatening circumstances can be rewarding on many levels.”

Howes said one barrier for his firm is the specialized nature of slate and tile roofing. But he said though he hadn’t yet considered hiring refugees, he’s more than willing to look into it. “I don’t think anyone is going to turn their nose up to a willing worker at this point,” Howes said.

NRCA’s guidance document provided nine private resettlement agencies across the nation:

  1. Church World Service
  2. Episcopal Migration Ministries
  3. Ethiopian Community Development Council Inc.
  4. HIAS
  5. International Rescue Committee
  6. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
  7. U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
  8. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services
  9. World Relief

Another resource for employers interested in hiring refugees is this on-demand webinar, Who are Refugees and How Do They Arrive in the United States? Understanding the Refugee Resettlement Process.

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