Lady Liberty goes AI: A pathway to meaningful employment for immigrants in Vermont

We’ve been working with Green River a lot lately and we love how they’re using the power of software for good. Most recently they reached out for support in spreading the word on an exciting new project; the ‘Pathway to Employment for Every Working Vermonter’ (or PEEWV for short). The project has the potential to revolutionize how jobseekers find employment using AI solutions. Keep reading to learn more! 

While the US economy suffers from labor shortages, millions of immigrants are eager to work.

Over the past decade, the number of people forced to flee their homes has steadily increased and now stands at the highest level since records began. At the end of 2021, those displaced by war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses stood at 89.3 million, more than double the figure of 10 years prior. At this rate, over one billion people are at risk of being displaced by 2050. 

Refugees escaping war, natural disasters, and persecution typically seek nothing more than stable work and a safe home for their families. Large countries such as the United States, with myriad unfulfilled job opportunities, typically welcome such enthusiastic workers with tailored employment solutions, enhanced job opportunities, and collective long-term planning programs. Historically, the United States has been a leader in refugee admission. Refugees have become a crucial component of the American job market, notably occupying challenging positions in sectors such as agriculture and construction that otherwise remained unfilled.

Despite refugees and immigrants’ valuable potential to contribute to the US economy, some states have recently shipped eager-to-work immigrants out of state in protest of national refugee admission policies. In sharp contrast to this is the state of Vermont, which offers an alternative response to the arrival of new immigrants looking for work. 

Senator Leahy of Vermont, a longtime supporter of workforce development, has secured US$ 1 million in funding from the United States Senate to launch an innovative new program that matches unemployed individuals—immigrants, refugees, and longtime Vermonters alike—with employers who are struggling to fill positions. The Pathway to Employment for Every Working Vermonter (PEEWV) project will begin with a two-year pilot collaborative led by Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), Green River, and SkillLab.

The BDCC and Green River have a long-standing partnership leveraging the green economy for economic development in Vermont. The BDCC is a private, nonprofit economic development organization that serves as a catalyst for industrial and commercial growth throughout Southeastern Vermont. 

Green River is a Brattleboro software development company with two decades of experience deploying software solutions for public health, workers’ rights, accessible housing and shelter, environmental protection, and other social justice issues. Now, the BDCC and Green River are joining forces with SkillLab, an impact business from Amsterdam that uses career-guidance technology to address the challenges of labor market transitions. Bringing SkillLab’s mobile-based artificial intelligence algorithm to Vermont stands to revolutionize the way job seekers convey their skills, explore careers, and apply for jobs.

Harnessing the power of AI to boost meaningful, long-term employment

Southeastern Vermont’s rural setting presents unique employment challenges. Newcomers and longtime residents alike face underemployment and difficulty establishing a stable career. Meanwhile, businesses struggle to identify and connect with the right talent. Existing approaches have been unable to resolve this challenge. 

The PEEWV takes a different approach by locally customizing and deploying SkillLab’s award-winning technology: skill profiling and career guidance that empowers every Vermonter. By recognizing people’s skills and prior learning and providing access to career guidance, the project creates pathways to employment that encourage skill-building and participation in vocational or adult education. 

The United Nation’s AI research center recognized SkillLab’s technology as one of ten outstanding uses of AI for social good, and Green River will support adoption in the Vermont context. The PEEWV focuses specifically on serving both foreign-born and under-served Vermonters by helping them find meaningful long-term employment — work in which they are satisfied and happy to stay.

Uniquely, the PEEWV’s software application focuses on skills—not job titles or educational degrees—using a jargon-free interface available in 28 languages. By expressing their past experiences in the language of skills, Vermonters document their prior learning and create their individual skill profile. This profile allows jobseekers to explore different careers, access vacancies, identify career goals, uncover skill gaps and find the adult education options that would best prepare them for their desired career. PEEWV will work with local education providers to include them in the project and catalog their courses. This enables the recommendation of specific courses to help Vermonters to close the skill gap for the job they want.

This application can also potentially boost small employers’ generally low human-resource capacity by creating easy access to talent and capacity development. Taken to the next level, this application would enable labor market change predictions, identification of positions that will soon be available, and preparation of candidates for those opportunities via training. The result: predictive synergies across stakeholders to meet both present and future labor market needs for both employers and employees.

In general, PEEWV seeks to create and retain a flourishing business community that supports vibrant fiscal activity and improves the quality of life of all people, including immigrants and  refugees, by improving long-term skill, wage, and career growth outcomes. Crucially, these are the primary determinants of poverty and household income.

Changing labor market norms across the eastern United States and beyond

Although they are just getting started in Southeastern Vermont, PEEWV is already aiming to change the current labor market norms statewide and beyond, especially in rural areas where people lack employment opportunities. Such expansion could help bridge the existing gap between the highly competitive urban tech-economy and rural areas that simultaneously face low wages, underemployment, and increasingly acute labor shortages. 

Green River also envisions the PEEWV technology synergistically building on their long-standing work in homelessness through an integrated platform that, in addition to informing individuals of their housing application status, helps them find meaningful and lasting employment. Such information integration across public services in the United States, where there is currently no coordination between justice, employment, housing, and urban development services, could be a true game-changer. Given that employment and housing are some of the primary social determinants of mental health and individual well-being, coordinated entry, care, and service delivery across these essential components of well-being would support improved advocate decision-making. Ultimately, this means better outcomes for the beneficiaries of these systems and the larger society to which they belong. 

To learn more about the PEEWV project or get involved, visit Green River’s website.  

You can also find out more about how Written Progress can help get your work out into the world by contacting us.


#announcements, #employment, #green river, #immigrants

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