Integration topic of forum

Ideas shared to ease foreign employees' transition

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— Carel Nickey won't soon forget the young Japanese man who came into her office at the Colorado Workforce Center last winter.

He had a Social Security card in his hand, and although the language barrier made communication difficult, Nickey came to understand the man believed the card entitled him to rent an apartment.

Nickey related the anecdote to an audience of more than 20 local employers who gathered Tuesday afternoon to learn more about efforts to ease the transition for foreign nationals arriving to take jobs in the resort, construction and other industries here. The luncheon was hosted by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and the work force center.

The chamber's Colleen Miller said an ad-hoc committee called the cultural diversity group has been meeting monthly to answer the question: "What can we do to make the transition and (foreign workers') time here easy?"

The plan is to develop a pair of manuals, one for employers and one for employees, that answer the questions and issues surrounding the integration of foreign workers into the local community. The manual will be patterned after similar publications already in place in Summit County. However, Miller said unlike some other Colorado ski towns, Steamboat still has an opportunity to put training and education measures into place before the phenomenon of foreign nationals in the workplace catches local institutions by surprise.

The need for education comes in all areas of society, from understanding how local schools work, to motor vehicle regulations.

Miller said initiatives are already under way to print local bus schedules in Spanish. A spokesman for Steamboat Springs Transit confirmed Tuesday that for the first time this summer, about 1,000 city bus schedules will be printed in Spanish.

People attending the meeting were asked to speak out on information they feel should be included in the manual for employers.

Their suggestions included a list of local property management companies that provide long-term housing. Another employer said a listing of significant holidays in other countries would be helpful so she could understand workers' desire for days off work. Other people wanted to see information on the availability of "English as a second language" classes, a summary of Immigration and Naturalization Service guidelines with contact information for the closest office in Glenwood Springs, and a list of bilingual people in Steamboat willing to serve as interpreters.

Nickey said her agency, which comes under the U.S. Department of Labor, has to walk a careful line and avoid outright advocacy of hiring foreign nationals. At the same time, she knows the trend will continue to grow.

"The effects will be felt by our entire community," Nickey said. "Our approach is to ask, 'How can we make this an education project?'"

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