When Joe Dalton was approached by Boise's International Rescue Committee in Idaho to train refugees for dairy work, he didn't hesitate.
Dalton, a University of Idaho Extension dairy specialist, knew that area dairy producers were looking for legally documented, work-authorized workers. He suspected that the refugees, many of them with farming backgrounds, would respond readily to the training and perform well at work.
He was right. The program is finding jobs for the thousand refugees which end up in Idaho each year – mostly from Burma, Nepal, Togo, Iraq and Bhutan.
With Scott Jensen, UI Extension Owyhee County Extension educator, and some translators, Dalton offered milking schools to IRC refugees, and plans calving management and artificial insemination workshops in the fall.
"They are good students," he says. "They are attentive and ask questions and as a whole, are very interested."
Thirty milking class grads have already begun work at the mega dairy Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, Ore., reports Lana Whiteford, an IRC employment services specialist. She is negotiating with several Idaho dairies and fielding calls from other refugee agencies nationwide who want her advice on launching similar programs.
Threemile plans to hire more refugees, according to company human resources director Rose Corral, who feels results to date have been very positive. "They're excited to have an opportunity, and we're excited to have them," says Corral.
"Refugees make good employees because this is the first chance they've had to make a life for themselves," she says. "Most of them come from agricultural backgrounds, especially those who are 30 or older, and this opportunity is really empowering for them. They realize they can do the work and have a life again."
Dairies also pay better and offer more hours than other jobs, she notes, and offer an opportunity for refugees to live in areas where the cost of living is generally lower.