Ohio-based groups Global Cleveland and Rise Together want Northeast Ohio companies to know that hiring non-U.S. citizen talent is not as risky, expensive or time-consuming as some might fear.
Before Mick Jendrisak last year took over Pilot Plastics Inc., a custom injection-molding manufacturer in Cuyahoga Falls, the company had an employee attraction and retention problem and relied on temporary employment firms for 60 percent of its floor workers.
"Having that many temp workers does not correlate to a healthy company," said Jendrisak, who became president and CEO of Pilot Plastics after the death of his father Ted. "People did not want to work at Pilot. They just knew that this wasn't a good place to work, so we had to change cultures really fast."
After raising wages, improving working conditions and adding a human resources department, Jendrisak looked to bring in more dependable, permanent full-time workers.
He and his team looked inward, identifying a recent "standout" employee from the local resettled Nepali community and asked if the worker knew others who might be interested in a job. From there, Jendrisak took an old-school marketing approach to recruiting in the local Nepalese community.
"What we did was printed up flyers in both Nepali and Hindi," he said. "We put them all over in the Nepali community — at the grocery stores and the little boutiques everywhere that would allow us."
There was a quick response, and Pilot received an influx of new employee applications for the $17-an-hour, 12-hour shifts that offer full benefits, perks and the possibility of overtime. As of early summer 2022, about 85 percent of the company's 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. shift is Nepali, Jendrisak said.
Pilot Plastics is a case study for a promoting the type of equal opportunity for international talent and newcomers that Tanya Budler of Rise Together, a local workforce and immigration advocacy organization, wants to see other Northeast Ohio businesses adopt.
"The talent pool in Northeast Ohio is shrinking, but the refugee and immigrant community continues to grow," she said.
Ohio, Budler points out, consistently ranks in the top 10 states for resettlement of refugees — many with unrestricted work authorization.
The international newcomer community, which is made up of immigrants, resettled refugees and internal students, grew 7.3 percent between 2014 and 2019 and now makes up 5.7 percent of the total population of Northeast Ohio, according to a 2022 report, "New Americans in Northeast Ohio." The most recent statistics found about 1,900 resettled refugees have come to the region so far in 2022.
Meanwhile, a recent Fund for Our Economic Future report found that 80 percent of Northeast Ohio companies reported experiencing a "talent shortage," and 94 percent of those businesses said most of the applicants applying for jobs were underqualified.
"This is a crucial moment for the region, because now the most pressing question is no longer job creation, but where are the workers?" Budler said.
Workng with Global Cleveland, Budler released what she characterizes as a "call to action," entitled: "Here Are the Workers," playing off a 2022 report by the Fund, "Where Are the Workers." The two-page guide makes the case for businesses to look to recent immigrants and refugees as a "driver of economic recovery."
The strategic part of "here are the workers" hinges on businesses reevaluating how to recruit, hire and create immigrant-friendly policies within companies to remove employment barriers.
In the guide, Budler suggest a multifaceted approach to marketing and recruiting these international newcomers, including removing requirements such as "fluent in English" from job postings; writing job descriptions in multiple languages; and adding the phrase "accepts unrestricted work visas" to those postings.
Employers also can partner with Global Cleveland to gain access to the refugee resettlement community and get guidance on how to recruit and hire skilled immigrants who require a visa, or how to team with local colleges and universities to gain access to the international student talent pool.
The new employees at Pilot have worked out well, Jendrisak said. The group came with a built-in support system that included community carpooling and allowed for the fluent English-speaking members of the group to translate for the others.
"We've revamped how we go about training, just with a lot more visual communication," he said. "There are a couple real strong English speakers, and [we] relied on them to help with the translations. And had zero issues. With this new stable workforce, we've grown our sales, grown as a company and are doing far better than we ever expected."
The company's experience has been so positive that Jendrisak is working to recruit another wave of newcomers.
In May, the federal government extended the renewal period for certain work permits from 180 to 540 days and announced that resettled refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine were eligible for temporary protected status and an Employment Authorization Document or work permit issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"We already reached out to the Ukrainian diocese and to the churches on the West Side of Cleveland to tell them that we are here and what we do," Jendrisak said.
The move toward intentionally recruiting and hiring international workers in this call to action, Budler said, has received the support of Northeast Ohio's universities; national and local refugee and Hispanic groups; and government, business, civic, philanthropic and organizations.
"There are so many co-signers to this," Budler said. "It demonstrates an overall commitment to the effort."