Minnesota: St. Cloud business leaders to learn about Somali workforce, Islam

Forced indoctrination, Keith Ellisons area strikes again..

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Vicki Ikeogu, vikeogu@stcloudtimes.com

Members of the St. Cloud business community had the opportunity to learn about Somali culture and workforce at Thursday’s East African Presentation and Job Fair.

The two-hour joint presentation by Language Bank Operations Manager Abdul Kulane and Stearns-Benton Employment and Training Council Director Kathy Zavala provided employers with basic knowledge about Somali people and tips on how to interact with this growing population.

“This is a story of my family and Abdul’s,” said Zavala. “We had a very long and candid conversation about some of the hurtful things being said. And now we want that conversation to include you.”

Zavala said the average annual labor force growth across the state is projected to remain stagnant for at least the next 20 years. This, coupled with the aging workforce in sectors such as transportation, utilities and manufacturing, have required many employers to seek out new talent.

“The bottom line opportunity is immigrants are financial contributors, entrepreneurs, workers and consumers and help connect us to the world economy,” Zavala said.

Zavala said approximately 6 percent of people living in St. Cloud are foreign born, with over 25 percent of foreign-born citizens coming from Africa.

“If you look at the demographics, we need to understand where our workforce is coming from and how they can contribute to our economy in order to sustain our community,” Zavala said.

Kulane’s presentation highlighted some cultural and historical characteristics of the Somali community and how those can be used to benefit potential employers.

“Some of us started working at 12 years old. Why? Because of our environment. It has been our history. And for that reason, Somalis get mature and take responsibility around 12 or 13 years old,” Kulane said.

Kulane said for many Somalis, being entrusted with a job has a religious connotation as well. According to social norms, some Somalis do not like someone watching over their shoulder, he said. In Somali culture, it signals a lack of confidence in their abilities.

Cultural interactions such as eye contact and handshaking were also discussed.

A brief introduction to Islam was provided, allowing for employers to learn about the importance of prayer and fasting to many Somali people. There were tips for starting a conversation with the Somali workers on these topics.

But, Kulane said, many Somalis face obstacles in getting through the door.

“One thing I have seen is that employers are looking for American work history. That leaves out a big chunk of a job history out of a resume,” Kulane said.

Jama Alimad of the Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization said this proved to be an obstacle for him when applying for jobs.

“They told me I didn’t have the experience,” Alimad said. “I asked them to take a chance on me.”

Taking a chance on Somali immigrants is exactly what Kulane hopes will come of the presentation and job fair.

“I’m a fan of collaborating. I know you’re here because you are concerned and you need talented employees. This is a project that can unite us and better ourselves and our people.”