Immigrant Professionals: Guest Led Discussion Begins Jan. 26th

Hello colleagues, We learned a great deal from the webinar this afternoon focused on working with immigrant professionals. Mike Cruse, moderator for the Career Pathways CoP, and I want to thank Bahiya Carbral-Johnson, Deputy Director of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians in Philadelphia, and Elizabeth Wang, Education and Career Advisor, for sharing the Welcoming Center's story as well as the lessons they've learned in the past few years as they've embarked on a program designed to serve immigrant professionals and support these skilled immigrants onto meaningful career pathways.

We want to welcome two more Welcoming Center staff members, Manuel Portillo, Director of the Immigrant Professionals program, and Nicole Pumphrey, Director of Strategic Partnerships, who will join us for this follow up discussion.

Our guests plan to touch on the following topics over the next three days:

1. The importance of English proficiency, and how the Welcoming Center addresses this need

  • - basic ESL
  • - advanced English classes with contextualized content
  • - integrate English learning with test taking to assist participants' career pursuits

2. The importance of social capital and social networking

  • - mentorship program
  • - workshops and peer support groups
  • - study groups

3. Importance of career coaching and mock interviewing and their impact

  • - individual career coaching
  • - mock interviews and feedback sessions
  • - improving interviewing skills, professional understanding, and significantly increasing the confidence level of participants

You are invited to tell your own story about working with immigrant professionals and to pose questions to our guests. We will be sharing a number of relevant resources and we welcome your sharing of resources as well.

We are looking forward to a lively and informative discussion!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller & Mike Cruse

Moderators, AELL and Career Pathways CoPs


I am glad that this important discussion is taking place. Having taught ESL to adults in a college environment for many years, I'm particularly interested in comments relating to # 2, The importance of social capital and social networking.

Often, my students learned English well enough to even pass regular English courses, including English composition in a Freshman college environment and beyond. Yet, I was sometimes told by students whom I later met in the workplace, "Ai, maestra! I hope you can help me! I don't know how to deal with customers. I don't have the language. They come in and complain, often yelling in my face, and I just freeze. I have to quickly get help from other staff. It's very embarrassing and humiliating to me." Developing the language to deal with conflict is often overlooked in second-language instruction. Leecy

Thank you very much for your comments.  I think they reflect the importance of incorporating the cultural components of language and communication in our ESOL classes.  "Developing the language to deal with conflict" as your say is critical.  Also, important is the ability to interpret cultural cues and respond appropriately.  Whether we are working with immigrant professionals, immigrant entrepreneurs, or any of our English learners, our focus is on communication which, of course, is about so much more than language.  That is one of the reasons that acculturation is core to all of our curricula.   

I couldn't agree with you more, Bahiya. How do instructors incorporate acculturation as a "core to all of our curricula? The resistance is often stated as something like, "I don't have time. I work three jobs, and I can't add another responsibility to my role as an instructor." Thanks, Leecy


Your point is well taken and the unfortunate things is that the resistance you mention is based on the reality that instructors face multiple demands and limited resources.  For us developing contextualized ESOL curricula has been a process, one that is ongoing.  In my view, there is no way of getting around the fact that initially it involves added responsibility.  The first step for us was to identify culturally based learning goals relative to life and job skills. For example, our Vocational Literacy curriculum includes, but is not limited to, modules around housing, transportation, communicating with schools and child care facilities, interview skills, and unwritten rules of the workplace.   ESOL learning objectives are incorporated into these content based modules.  The responsibility for developing these modules did not fall exclusively on instructors but was a shared responsibility including case managers, administrators, and employment specialists who all assisted in identifying important content.  Over the years we have amassed a good collection of lesson plans and activities that instructors can use so that it is no longer burdensome.  At least, I no longer hear resistance to this aspect of our work.  

For our health care professionals, we purchased a curricula, Health Train, developed by the Welcome Back Initiative that incorporates acculturation competencies so that we did not have to start from scratch.


Thank you for taking the time to share this important information about your program. It is exemplary! 

You wrote:

... our Vocational Literacy curriculum includes, but is not limited to, modules around housing, transportation, communicating with schools and child care facilities, interview skills, and unwritten rules of the workplace. ...  Over the years we have amassed a good collection of lesson plans and activities...

Would your program be able to share some of the lesson plans and activities with other programs?

For our health care professionals, we purchased a curricula, Health Train, developed by the Welcome Back Initiative that incorporates acculturation competencies so that we did not have to start from scratch.

I found this web link for Health Train: I was able to download the modules and did not come across any requirements to purchase anything. Is there something in addition to these documents that Health Train puts out?

Phil Anderson

Adult ESOL Program Specialist

Florida Department of Education

Hi Phil, Thanks for your comments. If I'm not mistaken, the Welcome Back Health Train curriculum offers sample lessons in five major themes/modules as follows:

  • Module 1 Exploring Career Goals in Health Care
  • Module 2 Communicating with Patients and Families
  • Module 3 Communicating with other Health Professionals
  • Module 4 Exploring Critical Issues in Health Care
  • Module 5 Intercultural Communication in Health Care

I've drawn upon these free sample materials in the past, and they are excellent. To purchase the entire 40 unit curriculum, one needs to contact the San Francisco Welcome Back Center.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP



Dear Leecy,   Thank you very much for your comments and question.  We have worked with many clients who have the similar struggles and challenges in "using the appropriate language" in their profession.  Sometimes it is the linguistic issue, and other times it is the lack of cultural understanding in the specific industry in which they are working.    Having realized the need for the clients to learn "industry specific" language, we developed the mentorship program to connect clients with mentors who have experience in that field of profession.  The mentors and mentees will meet and communicate regularly to discuss the challenges that the mentees encounter at workplace.  Because those mentors work in the similar field and can help answer those questions and provide experience and advice on how to handle a specific situation.  In addition, the mentorship program also creates the network and even job opportunities for the mentees.    For example, we connected a mentee who is a physician from Columbia with a mentor who is a retired surgeon.  The mentor answered many questions that the mentee had about how to prepare for the relevant exams, how to interact with other colleagues in the hospital environment, such as how to best communicate with the patients, and how to engage in conversations with the family.  It has been a fruitful experience for both the mentor and the mentee.    Thank you very much. Elizabeth


Hi, Elizabeth,

Thanks for sharing about your mentoring program.  It is true that every industry has a second language, which can be an additional barrier for many ELLs.  I'm curious how you've gone about finding mentors for your learners?  

Your example of the physician from Colombia reminded me of one of my first volunteer experiences working with ELLs.  I volunteered with Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH), in Baltimore, MD, as a conversation partner.  While I wasn't in the healthcare field, I was impressed by the resources offered to foreign-trained doctors and other medical professionals at the hospital.  Here is a link to the JHU Office of International Services, where you can see some of the resources.

Under the News and Events tab, there is a listing for Presentations, which shares resources from the universities' International Bridge Program.  Some of these resources are Baltimore specific, but others may be useful wherever you are located.   There's also the Hopkins International Society Listserv, which is only open to JHU/JHH affiliated students and staff, but briefly describes another context for helping learners connect with the language of their career field.  

My thought in sharing this is that we all live in communities with resources that can be accessed and connected to support our ELLs in forging relationships and accessing the language of their professions.  What are the resources where you live, and how can you work to make them accessible for your learners?

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator 

I appreciated the webinar presentation and was especially interested in #2. Social Capital and Social Networking. I serve as an English tutor with the Alpha and Omega Community Center(AOCC) in Lancaster PA.  I am passionate about networking, especially in equipping my students to build their networking opportunities. A number of my students have been accounting students. About two years ago, I invited an accountant friend and a student interested in the accounting/financial field for coffee at a local café. The two talked,and the experienced accountant gave valuable advice and encouragement to my student.

Then, this past fall another accounting student who was in his last year of college expressed his anxiety about the future. We discussed resumes, internships, LinkedIn, networking, etc. I thought about the numerous students that I have continued to keep in touch with, and he and I decided to organize an informal Saturday morning networking breakfast at AOCC in November. There were ten of us. My current and former students who represented various backgrounds and countries got acquainted. I had also invited several professionals working in the field of accounting/finance, but they were unable to attend.

Nonetheless, one of the students took it upon himself to organize another breakfast this month in January. This time, a friend who is a CFO/COO of a local company joined us. He gladly shared some  of his experience over the years and the career path that he has followed. His down to earth advice was especially appreciated by the student that I first talked with back in the fall. I felt a sense of gratification to see the interaction between the CFO/COO and my students.

In our discussion, the question was raised about what immigrant professionals could do about getting relevant credentials in the USA. My friend the CFO/COO actually had extensive background in international business as he interacted with global partners. He made some interesting points. Regarding accounting/finance, he said in light of the global economy, attitude/aptitude/achievement were the critical points more so than where the degree or credentials came from. He also said that being bilingual was a real asset. Using LinkedIn was also important.

In the end, I appreciated his willingness to come and share with these immigrant professionals/students. What more can be done to involve HR departments and their employers in connecting with the pool of immigrant professionals in our communities? What more can ESL teachers and educational services do to facilitate this interaction?

Hi Daniel,

I work with skilled immigrants in Boston as language teacher and education and career advisor. Like you, my most pressing need in helping the students in my program is CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR SKILLED IMMIGRANTS TO NETWORK. I've always imagined this as a local-level strategy, but after seeing the country-wide diversity of our own group in the webinar, I'm wondering if we could help create national networks for our students/clients to tap into?

It seems like current program models address LANGUAGE NEEDS, COLLEGE/CAREER ADVISING, ECONOMIC NEEDS that are well enough established that they can continue to be refined on a local level by adult ed programs and other support services. The skilled immigrant survey results published by IMPRINT last year really highlighted the need for SOCIAL CAPITAL/NETWORKING. There are many advantages to immigrants having their own networks. Networking empowers our population to take control of their own destiny and they can also communicate in their preferred language for the more nuanced topics they need to learn about and share.

I wonder how useful/practical national immigrant-generated networking groups would be? What's your opinion on LinkedIn as an appropriate place for skilled immigrants to create professional networks that would direct participants to credentialing guidelines and alternative career paths to their long-range professional goals, among other things?

I also wonder about tapping into WIOA/Workforce funding to support these efforts? Do you have any insights?





Hi, Daniel, 

Great to hear your story of perseverance in getting networking going for your learners.  I'd also encourage you to take a look at A Toolkit for ESL Practitioners: Supporting Skilled Immigrants in the LINCS Resource Collection.  This resource is put out by World Education Services' Global Talent Bridge, which offers numerous resources for supporting skilled immigrants.   

The toolkit includes several scenarios of skilled immigrants, with suggestions for them to network with professionals in their field, and others who are able to support them in exploring channels for skilled employment in a career pathway.

 Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator


Friends, our experience here in Philadelphia working with many foreign trained professionals made us think that relationship building skills is truly a critical capacity to foster.  If I can share a tiny bit about this, we work to help our program participants build upon the experience they already have so we can first gain an understanding about where they are at as they engage in pursuing their career pathways.  We discuss individual challenges and what strategies can help overcome those barriers, developing relationships with the right people in the right places being one of them.  But we have found that immigrant professionals encounter significant cultural differences and social expectations that often make them feel threaten, or intimidated to some extent. This is the case even for people born in the U.S. Sometimes a simple hand shake cannot be taken for granted.  

We also know there are some 'networking' events where people have a drink and chit-chat at a somewhat superficial level and not much happens afterwords. We all know there are many different kinds of events where we can meet new people and initiate relationships to expand our social capital, but when working with immigrant professionals we have found that helping them develop their own approach is very useful.  By approach I mean how can they introduced themselves -as someone looking for employment or someone looking to be helpful and be a resource to others? How can they talk about themselves while understanding where others are coming from in a conversation?  For example, in many countries we don't boast much about our accomplishments because sometimes the social rule is one of humility, but in America it's different and people often do tend to lift themselves up a great deal about where they work or what they do, sometimes beyond comprehension. 

There is also the question of power dynamics. Building trusting relationships developed based on values increases the sense of power we all need in order to operate effectively in our personal worlds. I find that helping people understand how power works can also be another avenue towards increasing social capital.

The encounters that Daniel is helping to facilitate are a wonderful way to help local immigrant professionals learn and build new relationships. And I thinking practicing our relationship building skills at a local level first -and becoming really good at it- can help someone relate better to the impersonal larger networks we find ourselves in these days.  

Hi, Manuel,

Thank you for bringing up the issue of power dynamics and presenting personal accomplishments in the conversation.  As native of the U.S., I experienced a similar sense of culture shock in moving from the small, rural town where I grew up to more urban environments.  I've found that the culture of professional self-promotion is greater in cities than in more rural areas.  I think this has to do, in part, with greater competition for jobs.  What else do you think is specific to this phenomenon the U.S.? 

You say that, "There is also the question of power dynamics. Building trusting relationships developed based on values increases the sense of power we all need in order to operate effectively in our personal worlds. I find that helping people understand how power works can also be another avenue towards increasing social capital."

Do you have any suggestions for how to help our learners understand how power works in the U.S., in business, or in specific careers?  I think this is hugely important to helping skilled immigrants navigate career pathways in the U.S.

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator 


this question relates to many things such as civic engagement and citizenship education, but I think of it in the context of helping people expand their social capital.  This does not need to be an esoteric concept if we take on a practical approach.  Several times I tried to explain this idea to people but it was difficult for them to understand.  However, one day one of our participants came back to us after a job interview where she had been asked to submit three references.  It was until this moment that what we had explained during our workshops clicked in for her.  It all made perfect sense, that you need to be intentional about building relationships.  In other words, that you need a plan and a method. 

But back to how power works it helps to discuss with people the culture of decision making within certain institutions or professions.  We take on an asset-based approach, but at times it's unavoidable that people will bring up things such as structural racism, or unconscious bias.

Immigrants can easily understand give and take, negotiation, etc, but they have more difficulty understanding intentionality because this involves a certain discipline. 


Your last sentence really struck me.  "Immigrants can easily understand give and take, negotiation, etc, but they have more difficulty understanding intentionality because this involves a certain discipline".  

Can you say more about what you mean as far as "understanding intentionality"?  If helping learners understand a fundamental skill (understanding intentionality) will help them network in the U.S., how do we as adult educators support a skilled immigrant population in developing the necessary discipline in this area?


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator 

Greetings Colleagues,

I teach English and advise skilled immigrants in Boston, where I am a recent transplant from Florida. I've really struggled with the apparent barrier to WIOA funding for Adult Ed programs serving skilled immigrants. Can anyone shed insight into why workforce funding and the national focus on skilled immigrant populations are so slow in converging? My Boston colleagues tell me that WIOA funds will never come to skilled immigrants despite the obvious mutual benefit?  Does anyone have experience with a successful small-scale workforce RFP for skilled immigrants, especially funding for networking opportunities? 

Shelly Hedstrom YMCA International Learning Center, Boston



Hi, Shelly,

Thanks for your comment and questions.  Two resources that you may want to check out are Steps to Success: Integrating Immigrant Professionals in the United States, which includes a report specific to efforts on integrating immigrant professionals in Boston.  The other is The IMPRINT Project's  WIOA: An Opportunity to Better Serve Immigrant Professionals?  This is a Powerpoint from a May 2015 webinar that explains how WIOA can be applied to serving the needs of a skilled immigrant population.

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator 



Welcoming Center Staff and CoP Members,   We had a question from Tuesday's webinar that we did not have time to answer, and I want to ask here.  A participant asked the following question:   We have 15 diffrent nationalities in our company. Many of the employes work in manufacturing and through our online Math and Reading assessments, we have found that many have not done well enough to be able to read SOPs and other document. We just started a Pay for Skill program that requires certification in the employee's home department before becoming certified in other departments.  Do you have any recommendations to help employees?   What are examples of some contextualized curricular resources being used to help learners with math and reading assessments?  Has anyone else implemented a Pay for Skill program?  If so, what does that look like, and what have been your challenges and successes?   Mike Cruse   Career Pathways Moderator 

Hello everyone, I've been away for a few days spending time with my daughter and her husband and my first grandchild, a girl. I'm catching up on the conversation today.

I want to thank our guests from the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians for so graciously sharing their expertise and lessons learned related to working with immigrant professionals. Thank you to Bahiya Cabral-Johnson, Elizabeth Wang and Manuel Portillo for offering us their insights. Our guests' thoughts regarding the value and importance of social networking and cultural capital were particularly valuable.

I wanted to let everyone know that the Welcoming Center has a several useful publications available on their website including:

  • How to Succeed in the Workplace
  • Becoming an Accountant & Auditor in Pennsylvania
  • Becoming a Systems Analysis in Pennsylvania
  • Becoming a Teacher in Pennsylvania
  • Becoming an Engineer in Pennsylvania
  • Gateway Jobs in our Economy
  • How to Start a Business

While many of these guides are specific to Pennsylvania and/or the Philadelphia area, they offer useful ideas and suggestions to program staff as well as to immigrants.

Working with immigrant professionals is both rewarding and challenging. We all want to see these skilled professionals move quickly onto career pathways that make sense for them. It's clear that there are many complex factors that affect an immigrant professional's achieving his or her goal. Our LINCS community is an ideal venue for sharing strategies, resources, information, and successes as well as for posing questions and concerns as we strive to support the immigrant professionals to gain the cultural competence, English and work skills they need to succeed.

A few questions that come up often include:

  • How should I advise foreign trained registered nurses, physicians, engineers and teachers?
  • What about credential evaluation? When should an individual request a credential evaluation and from whom?
  • When does an individual need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language?
  • How can we accelerate the English language immigrant professionals need?
  • What is different about a professional resume and job interview?
  • How can individuals decide if an alternative career pathway, such as working as a dental assistant instead of a dentist, might be a good move?

Please weigh in if you have thoughts on any of these questions. Also, please pose your own. There is a great deal of expertise represented among our members from across the nation. Let's keep the conversation going here on LINCS!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP