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Women at Work: IRC Manufacturing Works Career Course

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Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography


“When I walk into this classroom, I am able to hang up the challenges that hold me down and start fresh.”

Julie Momodu Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

After 6 weeks, Julie Momodu is attending her last class of the Manufacturing Works Program taught at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Phoenix. This course is designed to prepare and train refugees for the skills needed for entry level employment in the manufacturing industry. Two cohorts have graduated from the course, with the most recent second cohort consisting of entirely refugee women. The course curriculum is broken down into five “ready to work” skills: Technical Skills and English as a Second Language (ESL), Soft Job Skills, Computer Literacy, Math Literacy, and Financial Literacy.

“When I first came to the United States from Nigeria, I started with a job in nonprofit,” says Julie. “So, coming to the IRC for this class was kind of an interesting flip in roles.”

Julie, along with the five other women currently enrolled in the same all session, all come from very diverse backgrounds and previous work experiences. Regardless of where they came from , they are all enrolled in this program with the same outcome in mind: creating a better life for themselves and their families.

“My husband just had surgery and is no longer able to work,” says program student Dawlat Alrifai, originally from Syria. “I have a big, big family – 4 kids – and I need to get a better job to make sure they are comfortable.”

The manufacturing industry is one of the largest in Arizona, with over 160,000 job opportunities and $25 billion in exports. The Manufacturing Works program has partnered with three major industry leaders in the valley and reached out to an additional twenty industry stakeholders to ensure that the skills our clients receive meet industry standards for entry level positions.

Dawlat and Nilab study information on manufacturing tools. Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

“Every time I come into this class, I am able to visualize myself in the positions I want to be in,” says Julie. “I really believe we all can do it, regardless of where we came here from or what language or cultural barriers might stand in our way.”

One of the most impressive results that this class has seen has been the improvement in the students’ English language skills. From the last session, every single student improved their ESL score as seen through their post-graduation exam. Over half of the students even moved up an entire level of English proficiency in just 6 weeks.

“As a native Dari speaker, I have gained a lot of confidence with my English skills through this program,” says Nilab, a student from Afghanistan. “Just through talking with these amazing women every day, all in similar situations as myself, I have gained so much.”

When asked about their favorite part of the program, they all had one resounding answer: the teacher, Shana Bell.

Photo: Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography

“Shana is the most incredible teacher,” says Julie. “She has a way of highlighting our strengths and making us feel confident in our skills. She has successfully created a comfortable, nurturing environment for us to learn and grow.”

Shana is the Vocational English Language Trainer at the IRC and has taken on this course to ensure the clients are receiving the knowledge necessary to succeed in the workforce.

“The students are incredible,” says Shana. “It’s watching them grow as women every day and seeing that they have a dream. When we got the information that one of our recent graduates got hired, they all broke out into a wild array of celebration. They can see it at their fingertips that something can come true for them. They found a place of trust, a place of growth, and a place where they can feel worthy.”

With graduation soon approaching, these women will be entering the applicant pool more prepared than ever and with a newfound confidence to land their dream jobs.

“I ask our community and the rest of the world to be open minded to hiring refugees and to refrain from judgment,” says Shana. “Behind each one is a story worth hearing.”

Story by Sam Riedel, Communications Intern. Photos by Colette Roark, Make Your Memory Photography. 

This program was made possible with support from Arconic Foundation.