International Refugees Get Dairy Training…and Dairy Jobs
Caldwell—When Joe Dalton, University of Idaho Extension dairy specialist, was approached by Boise’s International Rescue Committee to train refugees in dairy work, he didn’t hesitate. Dalton knew that area dairy producers were looking for legally documented, work-authorized employees, and he suspected that the refugees—many of them from farming backgrounds—would respond readily to the training and perform well at the work. He was right.
With Scott Jensen, University of Idaho Extension educator in Owyhee County, and several translators, Dalton is offering milking schools to IRC refugees and plans calving management and artificial insemination workshops in the fall. “They are very good students,” he said. “They are attentive and ask questions and, as a whole, are very interested.”
According to Lana Whiteford, IRC employment services specialist in Boise, 16 milking class graduates have already begun work at Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, Ore., joining 14 other IRC refugees who previously were placed there. Whiteford is also negotiating with several Idaho dairies and is fielding calls from other refugee agencies nationwide who want advice on launching similar programs.
“Refugees make good employees because this is the first chance they’ve had to make a life for themselves,” said Whiteford. “Most of them come from agricultural backgrounds—especially those who are 30 or older—and this opportunity is really empowering for them. They realize they can do the work and have a life again.”
Whiteford said dairies also “pay better and offer more hours, and the refugees can live in areas where the cost of living is lower.”
Rabiou Manzo, an IRC resettlement program specialist who earned his master’s degree in animal science at the University of Idaho, said it was easy to place refugees in factories, hospitals, restaurants and cleaning jobs a year ago. “Now it’s more difficult—very difficult—because many Americans who are getting laid off are applying for these jobs,” he said.
When a National Public Radio story about the IRC’s resettlement efforts netted the first call from Threemile Canyon Farms last December, Manzo was so thrilled he said, “Let’s go.” He and Whiteford loaded up a 15-passenger van and drove it through a snowstorm to Boardman.
At Threemile Canyon Farms, Rose Corral says the results have been so positive that the dairy plans to hire more Extension-taught IRC refugees. “They’re excited to have an opportunity, and we’re excited to have them,” said Corral, director of human resources and corporate social responsibility. “A lot of them have backgrounds in farming—some have had their own livestock and their own farms—and I think they’ve found something familiar. They appear to be very dedicated, they’re very willing to learn and they’re enthusiastic.”
The dairy is even offering free English language instruction to its diverse group of refugees, who are native to Burma, Nepal, Togo, Iraq and Bhutan.
According to Whiteford, a thousand refugees land in Idaho each year and are expected to find work within eight months. “We want to see our people become self-sufficient and do things independently, and they can’t do any of those things unless they’re working.”
The University of Idaho Extension training “makes the refugees more desirable to hire,” Whiteford said. “They already know the basics and what to expect, and employers are impressed because they have a groundwork from which to go. It’s a valuable tool to market people.”