Immigrant workers help relieve employee shortage

Alex Gomez has a dream to own and operate a Cuban restaurant in the United States someday.

The 23-year-old has been gaining food-service experience and lots of work hours at KFC Restaurant in Minot since arriving in early December through Global Employment Services, a job placement agency.

“It was quite an adventure,” said Gomez of coming to Minot from Cuba via Miami, where he worked nearly a year as a legal assistant.

Global Employment Services, a Maine company, connects businesses with immigrants and U.S. citizens who are willing to relocate from areas of high unemployment to locations with jobs. The company is working with businesses in Minot, Williston and Dickinson to help alleviate a labor shortage.

“It’s a great program for the employers here,” said company president Robert Laltoo. “I see a lot of opportunities here, especially for employers who can help find housing.”

Laltoo was in Minot last week to meet with employers. Upon discovering the need for farm workers, he plans to include people with agricultural backgrounds in his applicant pool. He hopes to eventually have more than 100 workers placed in the state.

“We have thousands of people that we could place,” he said. “They want to start their lives. North Dakota offers a good chance to start your life.”

Global Employment Services, which began bringing workers to North Dakota last November, had about 26 people employed as of mid-January. They arrived with housing secured.

The housing crunch in western North Dakota might be seen as a drawback to making the program work here, but Laltoo views it differently. He said businesses are more likely to keep workers if housing is tied to the job, although most employers will find that the workers tend to be loyal and eager to stay long-term.

The biggest challenge for the program might be North Dakota’s weather. Most of the immigrants in the program are from Latin America. So far, the onset of winter hasn’t seemed to dampen the enthusiasm, Laltoo said.

“Their work ethnic is strong,” he said.

Gomez, who has enjoyed bowling in Minot, hopes to experience laser tag and snow skiing.

“I want to snowboard. I like snow,” he said.

Gomez also hopes to travel and see more of the country, although he likes what he sees of Minot.

“I always thought I wanted to live in the big city. But it’s nice,” he said. “You can know people. People aren’t so busy. They are friendly.”

Gomez learned English while still in Cuba, where he finished three years of college before deciding that he wanted to get out and see more of the world.

Immigrants recruited by his company typically are bilingual, often speaking excellent English, Laltoo said. Some bring families with them or plan to bring families once they get established.

Laltoo said immigrants often have more than entry-level experience. Some have backgrounds in management, medicine, law or accounting. They are willing to take entry-level positions, though, and work their way up in America, he said.

Dairy Queen West employs two workers through Global Employment Services.

“It’s been wonderful. Without it, we are in danger of not keeping our doors open. There just aren’t enough employees in town,” owner Becky Beechie said.

Some Minot employers had relied on temporary foreign student workers in a J-1 Visa program that was discontinued last fall. A number of Minot employers also have used the H2B Visa program, which brings workers to America for somewhat longer periods.

The program with Global Employment Services offers more stability because employees contract for a year and can stay longer.

“That’s the enticing part of it,” Beechie said. “The J-1 students are great, also. That’s been a wonderful program. But every three months you are retraining. So this is a little bit more permanent solution, and we hope that with these employees, it works out that they want to stay with us indefinitely.”

Matt Stanley, manager of KFC in Minot, said his restaurant is wrapping up an H2B program with workers from Thailand and Vietnam and expects another group of interns by early March. But the restaurant also is hiring workers through Global Employment Services.

Stanley said the employment service has worked out “extremely well. We are very, very happy. … They have just proven to be very good employees.”

Employers pay a fee to Global Employment Services, which varies with the job and other factors.

Laltoo said he works closely with employers to ensure good matches. Employers can conduct long-

distance interviews, observe candidates on video or via Skype and have the final say in selecting their workers.

Laltoo, who has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, has been working with international programs since 1982. Global Employment Services started 13 years ago to work with the H2B Visa program.

The company expanded to include screening legal immigrants living in the states for employers on the East Coast, Texas and now North Dakota. There are more than 1,000 foreign workers in the company’s network.

Employers who want to know more about the program can contact Global Employment Services at 207-571-8500.