On a Tuesday morning, outside the entrance of an event hall in Stone Mountain, around 15 refugees were lining up. Most had arrived in Atlanta over the last few months - fleeing from wars and violence in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They had their temperature checked, then a staff member greeted them with a big smile. “Put forth your best effort”, she advised. “Let me see those smiles behind those eyes, and I think you’re gonna do well!”
And with that, the doors opened to a ballroom full of representatives from at least 40 different potential employers, seated side by side at tables and ready with employment applications, brochures, and complimentary pens, notebooks, and key chains. Some even had Halloween candy.
The refugees are being welcomed with open arms for a state that is struggling to fill open positions. Mark Butler, Georgia’s Labor Commissioner, says there are several hundred thousand unfilled jobs in the state. “This is a unique and different situation. We have never had this many jobs sitting open,” he told the AJC earlier this month.
The timing could work out for many refugee families who arrived late this summer and have a short window of time to find a job.
Paidea Mixon, Chief Executive Officer of New American Pathways (New AP), says the organization has helped resettle over 130 people since July. After a lull in resettlement because of the pandemic and before that, Trump Administration polices like the Muslim Ban, the arrival of so many in such a short window is a big change. When Mixon found out about the Tucker job fair, she was thrilled. Tucker is next to Clarkston, where the majority of the refugees they work with live, and finding a job nearby (and avoiding what can be an hours long commute) is ideal.
Abdul Haikal, originally from Afghanistan, was one of at least three employment specialists from New AP at the event, who were there to serve as liaisons between employers and fellow refugees.
He made his way from table to table, with several men at his side, gathering brochures and applications and chatting with company reps. The men he hoped to help find jobs for had diverse talents - one was a carpenter in Sudan for over 17 years, the other an elderly man from Sudan who had been a farmer his entire life, and another a Congolese refugee who’s been finishing up his degree in software engineering from his school in Rwanda, virtually.
The jobs available were all over the spectrum - a Cake Icer at Coco Bakery in Tucker; a Printing Tech at International Paper; a warehouse supplier at Macy’s; an arcade attendant at Stars and Stripes. Many, if not most of the jobs, required some degree of English.
“Companies do have difficulties hiring people with zero English abilities,” said Abdul. But he tries to address this by making sure refugees can be hired in groups, “I bring seven people who speak the same language, and make sure at least two of them are fluent in English...so the company can borrow them from the line to help them to communicate with non English speakers.”
Some of the jobs were unusual. Marci Creath, VP of Human Resources at Zoo Atlanta, emphasized the Bamboo Tech position at the zoo. She said it was a good job for immigrants because you don’t need English to fulfill the requirements - which are to drive to different sites around Atlanta collecting bamboo and delivering it back to the zoo, for elephants and pandas to feast on.
As the job fair drew to an end, Abdul was hopeful about the prospects, “I found a lot of great opportunities, especially for non English speakers - construction, packaging, shipping, receiving, loading, unloading.”