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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Hartford Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

During episode 4 of our #OnTheRoadULC road trip, we sat down with top innovators Noma Naficy and Beverly Redd to discuss their workforce and economic development programming at Hartford Public Library in Connecticut. 

Building upon an already strong immigrant programming framework, in order to further immigrant integration into the community fabric, the team launched their Immigrant Career Pathways Initiative three years ago. By partnering with other community agencies, the local school system, and neighborhood businesses, they were able to build a course that went far beyond simply obtaining a job. Listen in to discover how this library team built a program centered around developing sustainable employment, soft skills, and knowledge of immigrant workplace rights to promote economic growth for immigrants.


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Jim Heuer [00:00:17] Hi, everybody this is, Jim Heuer, host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and A Microphone. We're excited to come to you live from the Urban Library Council Annual Forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Award that the ULC bestows upon its member libraries. Today we have two of the top innovators from Hartford Public Library with us. We have Beverly Redd. Hi Beverly.

Beverly Redd [00:00:45] Hello, how are you?

Jim Heuer [00:00:47] Excellent, thank you so much. We also have Homa Naficy. Homa, hello.

Homa Naficy [00:00:52] Hello, how are you?

Jim Heuer [00:00:54] Excellent, thank you. As I mentioned, Hartford has been bestowed a Top Innovator Award in the Workforce and Economic Development Category, for their Immigrant Career Pathways Initiative. Would you tell us what that is?

Homa Naficy [00:01:12] All right, let’s talk a little bit about how it started. RFP that came out from the Hartford Foundation for public giving, which is one of the largest foundations in the nation, and they were looking for pathways that would help the unemployed go beyond just a job. So, something that leads to an actual career. The RFP went out to establish organizations in the adult education field, and of…I think there were about 25 that actually applied, and maybe more, 50 and 16 were awarded. We were one of the ones who received the award, and it's a three-year demonstration project, we're already at the end pretty much of the project. One of the key features of it is a partnership. Partnership with another entity that can guarantee that sustainable employment, so we reached out to the Hartford Public Schools. We looked at the industry, the food industry, which was one of those industries that's growing, and the Hartford Public Schools. We don't look at the school from the kitchen perspective, but they have 53 kitchens, and they are one of the biggest employers in that industry. That said, we also targeted our audience with only one of those 16 initiatives that focuses on immigrants, we did that because we have a very strong framework of

Homa Naficy [00:02:34] work with immigrants. We had a strong linguistic program, the excel program, and a very strong civics program, civic engagement. The part that we hadn't yet established was the career pillar. This was our opportunity to develop that, and we were awarded the funding. The funding is one piece and the other piece is finding someone who has the abilities and savviness to implement it successfully, which is Beverly Redd.

Beverly Redd [00:03:03] Thank you.

Jim Heuer [00:03:05] Beverly, would you tell us a little bit then about the implementation or what you did to get this running. You said you're in the end of the third or you're closing in

Homa Naficy [00:03:13] We're closing in pretty much, yeah.

Beverly Redd [00:03:16] I came in, in year two of the grant, so the way we looked at it was that we needed a framework, we needed an infrastructure, and then we need delivery. The person that was there before me did an exceptional job in terms of creating the framework, which was pretty much a requirement of the grant, and when I came in it's, "How do I build that out?" It was about recruiting students into the program. It was not difficult because we already had immigrants in the American place in the library, so they were familiar with us, so we were able to draw from that. We spend a lot of time recruiting for the target audience out in the community. Which was mostly targeting like churches, small business, nonprofit organization, restaurant, and started to build our network there. Once the student came in, we have two levels in the program. Frankly, one is an entry level, these are individuals that have never worked in the industry, so it's basic food preparation, waitressing, dish washing, prepping, in terms of food, and the second level is a food manager program. These are individuals that have been in the industry for a very long time, and they needed to get their license in order to work in the food industry. They’re times that we take individuals that do level one,

Beverly Redd [00:04:57] and then build them onto level 2, but also to deal with the other issues that people that are unemployed. Their barriers to employment, that may be homelessness, the lack of transportation, lack of education, both technical, and soft skills, lack of computer skills, that was one of the first things that we learned that you have to be able to use a cash register, you have to be able to use an ATM card, you have to be able to do an invoice. Those are all things that we built into the program. We spent the year developing the program both in the technical side, and on the soft skills side of the halves.

Homa Naficy [00:05:42] I just wanted to mention one thing, I talked about the schools, but I didn't exactly explain what their function was. It was the internships, so we offer instruction, and then there is the on-the-job training, which is conducted at the schools.

Donna George [00:05:57] Homa, I'm actually glad you mentioned that, I was actually curious. It seems like, and I may have misunderstood, this program is maybe you're working with more than one other organization? I'm curious about the library's role, are you delivering the training, are you providing the space? Kind of who all's working together to pull this off?

Homa Naficy [00:06:17] We recruit our own instructors, and there's the training program that they go through, which Beverly can speak up to more, it's ServSafe, it's the industry that we work with. As far as getting your certification, you have to be certified to be an instructor, and a proctor and all that. We have the space, but the actual internship, the on-the-job training, we don't have, so that's where the school comes in. Also, we are very fortunate that we have the Capital Workforce Partners, which works through the Department of Labor. The workforce board of our area, and region of Hartford region that has a site at the library, so the American Job Center has a satellite within the library, so a lot of the soft skills and resume building, which Beverly was referencing. We’re able to work with the Capital Workforce Partners, the American Job Center to support that. But there are other partners that Beverly has established. You want to talk about a couple? The two of them?

Beverly Redd [00:07:13] We focus on…we meet the students at their level depending on what they have, so for example; when in the school system, we have to go by the regulations and guidelines of the school system. If we have an individual with a background, they may not be able to work in the school system, or at the hours they have available may not match what the school has to offer, because it goes on the school calendar year. We work with employers, commercial kitchens, in the local marketplace to help with recruiting, and also it’s an opportunity for employment. From an employer perspective, they're getting work testing, the employee, the talent. They don't have to recruit, they don't have to pay for training, the upstart, the onboarding piece of it, because our students are going there. So, they get to work either 27 hours, or 45 hours depending on the program that they're in. If they perform well at the end of the program there's an opportunity for employment.

Jim Heuer [00:08:24] All right, so that's really fascinating. You kind of take a student, and you teach them the kind of skills, both the hard and the soft, you're providing such a service to the community of Hartford. There's these skilled, knowledgeable laborers who can move right into the organization. I have to imagine the community has been behind these pretty strongly.

Beverly Redd [00:08:50] They're behind it. More people are coming to us because the word is getting out. It's all about word-of-mouth, and we're pretty excited because our students are now from our students to ambassadors. They go out and talk about the program, and then we get more students to work with. But from a perspective, when they get to the employer they're already trained, and they're trained based on the National Restaurant Association standard. Because we use the ServSafe training and all.

Homa Naficy [00:09:25] There's one other thing I wanted to mention because immigrants, a lot of immigrants work in the restaurant industry, and there's a lot of abuse that takes place, as well. One of our aspects about this also, is to educate both the employer, and the employees of immigrant rights in the workplace. That's a piece that's kind of amongst the other components, that's integrated into the education component.

Jim Heuer [00:09:48] Wow, there's a whole curriculum you have in place. As someone who might read the book on immigration, or listen to this podcast, what are some of the things if another library says, "Hey, we want to do something like that." Homa, as you started this, what were some of the stumbling blocks that you encountered? Then, Beverly, maybe after you kind of came in here too, what are some of the things you might give advice to, if another library wanted to do a similar program?

Homa Naficy [00:10:15] Well, I think with any project, well anything in any industry, it's who you hire. The hiring piece is essential and finding the person that has the right skills and experience as a project manager is essential. If you have that person, I think it'll run very smoothly. Outreach is a critical piece, and again, if somebody is a project manager, are they connected with the community? Beverly is from the community, is from Hartford, is highly connected. That's also a strong asset, plus the project management skills that she brings in. That connectedness with the community and having project management skills are essential. The library itself should have a framework. As I mentioned, we didn't just go out and say we want to do a career pathway for immigrants. We have 16 years of experience working with the immigrant community, with citizenship and language. It was a natural flow, it built onto an existing framework, which many libraries have in place.

Beverly Redd [00:11:14] The library staff must be committed to the population that they want to serve, and it's really a long-term aspect. That's the first thing that I would say, to add to what Homa already said in terms of the skill-set coming to the table to manage it. You have to meet each student where they're at, and each one of them are coming with a different set of challenges. It's never one-size-fits-all, so you have to be prepared to spend time to know the student as they come in, to know what their challenges are. For example, we want to teach and we want to get them employed, but you may have somebody that has a challenge in terms of being homeless. Because they're immigrants coming into the country, they're not fully integrated, they don't know how to navigate the system, they do not have any network. What are their needs? We do a lot up front in terms of registration, doing an interview and process with them to help them understand what their challenges are. We work towards moving the barrier, of course, some of the immigrants’ challenges are the same. Common challenges to unemployment: transportation, home, childcare, is another big one. Those are things that we have to, as a library, fortunately we're connected to the community, so we're able to refer them to some of these programs and

Beverly Redd [00:12:52] to individuals that we know that give them that sense of security and to help them build their self-esteem, so that they can finish the program and to employment.

Donna George [00:13:05] That's great. What do you see as being the next step of your program? What have you learned? Are there any gaps that you're kind of thinking about, as phase two? Or…?

Homa Naficy [00:13:16] Beverly has her aspect, and I'm thinking that really just the more partners we can build, the more…I mean we need to really... a lot of people don't know about what the value of libraries, how we're adding values to the community. And as we build partnerships, so she didn't name, Beverly didn't name two of the late partners that we had. One was, Chick-fil-A, that were able to recruit some of the interns, did some of the internships for those students that were qualified to go into an internship with the schools. And the most recent one is IHOP. These are two big industries that probably wouldn't even think of libraries having any role in the community, as far as workforce development goes. So, I do see that as an area that we're hoping to expand on somewhat, maybe a different angle that I'm looking at project wise. And Beverly?

Beverly Redd [00:14:13] We focus on hospitality and tourism, and so food service is a subset of that industry. There many other industries that we can expand to in terms of career pathway. Someone may not necessarily want to be in the food service, but they may want to be the truck driver that brings the food from the farm to the table. It may be somebody that wants to be hotel receptionist, these are all other job functions within the hospitality and tourism. Our hope and goal is that over the next few years, we can build it out to some of those other areas. There are students that want to move on more to culinary arts, so they want an educational background. Bridging with some of the local community colleges that offer that type of academic program is fascinating and hopefully we'll embark on that pretty soon.

Jim Heuer [00:15:13] Absolutely. Homa, you said that most industries don't think of the library as a place of job creators or workforce creators, or enablers. But this conference enabled "leading forward". I understand exactly why ULC would give you guys the Top Innovator Award. That's some real innovation there. This is a part of the community that you guys have really done a remarkable job forming that need. Our congratulations, also. Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best

Jim Heuer [00:16:38] way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. Tell us what you'd like to hear. That might help us as we're thinking about some of the content we're trying to bring you. It's the best way you can support what we're doing, we're trying to bring you interesting, fun, compelling, thought-provoking content. We might see some of you at ULC in Baltimore. If so, we'll look forward to that. If not, then we'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.