Jobs “Pipeline” Gives Patrick Ndagijimana A Shot
by Paul Bass | Feb 24, 2012 12:30 pm
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, The Hill, Jobs Pipeline
New Haven’s newest experiment in linking local people to local jobs left a Congolese refugee with a mini-loaf of Chabaso bread—and a shot at making some figurative bread.
That shot came Thursday afternoon at a job fair at Career High School, a fair that not only offered hope to hundreds of New Haven’s unemployed, but tested the city’s latest thinking about how to use government to get people working.
Patrick Ndagijimana, a 26-year-old trained accountant, came to the fair accompanied by his brother Daniel Biriko Mugao (at left in photo), with whom he arrived in New Haven last fall after spending 15 years in a Rwandan refugee camp following a childhood in war-torn Congo; and their friend Bereket Burey (center), an Eritrean refugee. They came along with a helper named Penny Schlesinger from the agency Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS).
The three joined around 200 other New Haveners who crammed the Career lobby to check in. They had previously attended one of three “pre-screenings.” City officials checked their resumes and job histories, as well as how they dress and comport themselves, at those events. If they felt the people were ready to apply for jobs (not everyone made the cut), they gave them hours of lectures in how to make a good impression on prospective employers. Then they told them to return to Thursday’s job fair at Career—where 30 local employers set up tables in the sun-lit cafeteria to hand out applications or just discuss openings they have.
Ndagijimana was born in Congo. His family left in 1996 amid a civil war: “They said they want to kill me saying I am a Tutsi.” His family landed in Rwanda, where the government ensured Tutsis’ safety. But life in a refugee camp was hard. And the family couldn’t return to Congo. Ndagijimana has been happy to land in New Haven and get help settling from IRIS. So far he’s been working four hours a week as a language tutor at Yale. He came to Thursday’s fair hoping to find a full-time job.
Some of the job-seekers have been looking for years. James Barnett, for instance. Barnett (pictured), who’s 24, last had a job as a busboy at Jimmy’s Restaurant in West Haven five years ago. He came hoping to find custodial work at Yale-New Haven (“I like Yale. It’s a good hospital”) or a food-service gig at the Omni Hotel.
Ndagijimana waited in line a while to reach the desk where five city staffers awaited to check their IDs and confirm they’d been pre-approved to attend. It was an on-time, well-dressed, nervously upbeat assemblage of people. Positive attitude had been emphasized in the pre-screening sessions.
And at the check-in table Thursday afternoon. “Don’t come up here if you don’t have a smile!” remarked one of the city staffers, Tirzah Kemp (pictured). “You’re smiling! I like that!” Then she clapped her hands.
“This is a first for us,” said Mayor John DeStefano (at right in photo) as he popped in to the fair with one of the employers, Charles Negaro of Chabaso Bakery (at left). DeStefano has been working on details of a “jobs pipeline” to connect local people to local jobs after a slate of labor-backed aldermen won a majority in last fall’s elections and called for such a strategy. (The aldermen are working on a plan, too.) DeStefano figured he could use his influence with local employers to have them come to the fair with lists of genuine openings—if he promised to deliver “job-ready” New Haveners whom his staff had pre-screened and prepared.
The recession and long-term national economic trends help explain an unemployment rate that hovers near 12 percent in the city. But so does the lack of “job readiness” among many unemployed people. As the fair demonstrated, lots of employers have had openings and either haven’t been able to find local people to fill them, or haven’t been pushed to try hard enough.
Chabaso, based in Fair Haven, does have a strong local hiring record. Still, it can be hard finding the right people for the lowest-paying ($9 an hour plus health benefits) and highest-paying positions, Negaro said.
Subway’s Christine Arroyo (at right in photo) was chatting up job-seekers and giving them applications to fill out for 25 to 30 positions set to open next month along with a new Subway I-95 rest stop outlet.
The most popular spot seemed to be the Hospital of St. Raphael table, which attracted 10 to 20 people in line at a time ...
... while manager Arnold Uvino killed time at the next booth over, waiting for the sporadic inquiry about AT&T sales jobs.
Once approved at check-in, Ndagijimana joined the throng inside the cafeteria. Ndagijimana has an accounting degree at the University of Rwanda. He’s worked for global accounting firm Ernst & Young’s Rwanda office. So he entered the Career cafeteria Thursday in search of accounting gigs. He spoke to staffers at the First Niagara Bank and Yale (pictured) tables. He was told he could apply online. The Yale staffer told him he should first check with Gateway Community College to make sure his Rwandan accounting degree comports with the standards of local programs.
He got a more encouraging response at the Chabaso table. Human Resources Assistant Bibiana Vargas spoke to him for a while about an inventory accounting position open at the James Street plant. Then she had him fill out an application while she and a colleague spoke with other job-seekers about the 11 positions Chabaso has open. She said the unpredictable hours in the bakery make the jobs hard to fill.
Ndagijimana turned in the completed application, shook Vargas’s hand, then left with one of the many ciabatta olive-oil bread packages Chabaso was giving away at the fair. Meanwhile, like others manning tables at the fair, Vargas also quietly noted the names of promising applicants who probably merit call-back interviews. She had spoken to between 20 and 30 prospective employees during the fair’s first hour, she said. She marked three of them as promising prospects. One of them was Patrick Ndagijimana.
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