La Liga helps clients find jobs by ensuring they overcome the greatest barrier — English
Highly educated and skilled people who come to this country are at a disadvantage in finding work if they don’t know the English language. But La Liga is one nonprofit in Syracuse that is devoted to helping them get jobs, especially when the language barrier is a factor.
Syracuse is ranked as the U.S. city with the highest rate of concentrated poverty among blacks and Hispanics, according to a study, “The Architecture of Segregation,” by Paul A. Jargowsky, a fellow at The Century Foundation. The concentration of poverty is related to the way poverty is geographically concentrated, with a high number of poor people living in high-poverty areas. Black and Hispanic poor people are more likely to live in high-poverty areas than white poor people. The number of Hispanic people living in high-poverty areas in the United States increased from 2.2 million in 2000, to 4.3 million by 2013.
La Liga, located at 700 Oswego St., addresses issues of poverty and unemployment affecting people of various races and ethnicities, but especially those among the Hispanic population. Many clients who seek La Liga’s services are from Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Isabel Saez, career coordinator at La Liga, says if clients don’t speak English, the organization sends them to attend ESL (English as a Second Language) training. Among training sites are Westside Learning Center, which is down the street from La Liga, and the Syracuse City School District.
“A lot of our clients are highly educated; many Cubans are doctors in their countries, but they are not certified here,” Saez said. “They do have educations; they just come from a lot of countries where they don’t speak English.”
Mairim Luciano, who until recently was the career coordinator at La Liga before Saez, said her clients also have struggled to gain employment because of transportation issues and lack of high school diplomas.
But within career services at La Liga, the greatest demand is for help with resumes and job applications. Clients normally get hour-long sessions at La Liga, and the time is split between building their resumes and searching for jobs. Luciano said she had built relationships with hiring managers at various corporations, which she said led to more opportunities for clients.
People have sought help from the organization after hearing success stories, Luciano said.
“I had somebody just show up because the day before, I helped his friend,” she said. “His friend was really impressed with the work I did to help him. So we have a lot of word-of-mouth people.”
Luciano described how she had had two cancellations that day, which allowed her the time to help this client create a resume and get an interview at UG2. The client was living at the Rescue Mission at the time, she said, so getting this job would improve his situation. The pay started at about $10.50 per hour.
“Now mind you it’s not lucrative, but it’s something,” she said.
The language barrier remains one of the toughest challenges that many Hispanic clients face. Luis Perez, originally from Cuba, was sent to La Liga by JOBSplus! in order to improve his English. Despite his bachelor’s degree in accounting from The University of Havana, he has been struggling to find a job because of the language issue. “Because I have several friends, they don’t know less English, like me, he has the job,” Perez said.
The staff at La Liga must make sure that clients who were doctors or accountants in their countries are certified to practice their profession in the U.S., Saez said. This usually requires the clients to take an exam, which can be an issue if the exam is in English, since they first must learn the language. Employers who usually are willing to hire people who don’t speak English are the ones that manage housekeeping, factory and childcare jobs, Saez said.
When talking with employers, Saez is honest about her clients’ language skills. Despite the language barrier, she has faith in their ability to do various jobs. “I advocate for them; I say that they are hard workers, and they can perform the job, but I have to be upfront about the language barrier.”
Many clients who don’t speak English also must overcome discomfort, said Carolina Sanchez, an intern at La Liga. “Can you imagine being homeless and trying to find a job, or trying to find a home? Imagine just trying to find any type of help, or understanding documents, and not knowing the language.”