Refugees have been in the news a lot lately. Did you know that, once resettled and trained up, they make great employees? —At least, that’s what the data says. In a market where unemployment is at generational lows, companies need every source of great talent they can possibly find. So, this week’s CEO Exclusive show discusses this new opportunity for businesses to hire people who will perform well and stick around for years.
Our guests this week were Cindy Bowden, Executive Director, and Justine Okello, Director of Programs from the Clarkston Community Center. Established in 1994, the Center serves over 56,000 individuals annually, primarily from Clarkston, which is in metro-Atlanta, many of whom are newly-arrived refugees or recent immigrants. They are on the front lines of helping displaced people find new homes and create new lives. This experience has allowed them to see the benefits that employers receive by providing employment to these people who are starting over.
Go by the Numbers
So, let’s talk about some stats. The Tent Partnership for Refugees conducted a recent study that gathered data and reached two major conclusions about refugees as employees. First, they are more loyal. They stay with the companies that hire them significantly longer than other employees. The study says specifically, “Nineteen of the 26 employers surveyed—73 percent—reported a higher retention rate for refugees than for other employees. This was consistent across industry sector, and across geography. To put it a different way, the turnover rate for refugees was between a fifth and two thirds lower for refugees than for employees overall.” With the significant costs associated with losing an employee, cutting employee turnover by these rates represents a significant savings for most companies.
Second, when refugees are happy, it helps with recruiting other, qualified loyal employees to work for the same employers. So, employers are not just hiring one person, in many cases they are opening up a new market for future employees. The article cites three advantages: increased applications from the same ethnic group, more placements from partner agencies, and higher quality vetting because the refugees have already been screened by the government. In the end, these benefits result in decreased hiring costs for the employer.
Follow Some Good Examples
This isn’t an entirely new trend. According to a Time article from Feb 2017, it’s likely that tens of thousands of refugees are being hired in the United States each year. One of nine refugee placement agencies, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) placed 4800 refugees at more than 2,300 companies, most of which were small businesses.
One example that’s been in the Atlanta area, very close to the Clarkston Community Center is the DeKalb Farmers Market, which has employees from over 50 countries and has been hiring refugees for over 30 years. The payoff in goodwill has been tremendous. The founder, Robert Blazer, quoted in The Dekalb Champion recalls, “There was an ice storm in 1979. We lost a building. It was completely destroyed. Then we learned that our insurance didn’t cover ice storms. People from the neighborhood—many of them people I didn’t even know—stepped up to help us rebuild,” he said. “Customers gave us money and we gave them coupons that they could use once we were operating again. With the help of our neighbors we were able to keep going.”
While most of the employers are small businesses, larger companies are also seeing the opportunity and taking advantage of it. For example, in 2017 Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 refugees over 5 years in the 75 countries where it operates—despite a PR backlash. Similarly, Chobani, the yogurt company, has made it company policy to hire refugees, but not for political reasons according to the leadership, but because it improves the company culture. Finally, WeWork, the virtual office company, has also pledged to hire 1500 refugees. As companies come to see the opportunity, the trend is picking up steam.
Deepen Your Family Ties
Improved culture is an additional benefit that companies site when hiring refugees. In many ways, the hiring company becomes like a surrogate family, and everyone draws closer together. As Cindy observes, “The people are more loyal, they’ll go and buy houses near where they work. They will bring in other people that could help work if there’s a shortage of labor. It’s creating a family out of the corporations and the companies, versus [just] hiring… It’s an investment in a future.” For people who have been displaced, working at the companies that hiring them is a chance to plants new roots and grow.
Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani, reaches a similar conclusion in a recent INC magazine article, “Refugees are dying to provide for their community. I always said that the minute they got the job, that’s the minute they stopped being refugees. It’s been proved to me that this was a plus to the culture.” Many leaders have found that hiring refugees helps makes the entire company culture more accepting, open, and flexible. People are able to work more effectively across difference. Everyone focuses more on their common goals and on what really matters.
Justine shares from his personal experience, “Acceptance is something that really a lot of people struggle with. If you apply for a job and you don’t feel accepted because of who you are, where you’re from… It affects your performance, as well. So, by just feeling that you’re accepted, it makes you work even harder and commit to your work and do what you’ve got to do.”
Helping people, finding long-term employees, increasing retention, and decreasing the cost of hiring—sounds like a great deal to me. Many companies are seeing the advantages and pursuing programs like those at the Clarkston Community Center. While these companies see the social value in these hiring programs, they aren’t charities. The reason refugee hiring is becoming more popular is because the programs make business sense. There’s a clear financial imperative. Refugees make good employees, and good help is hard to find.