Arizona electrical contractor's program puts international refugees to work

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Austin Electric Services, a residential electrical contractor in Arizona, has strengthened its workforce not only by putting Arizonans back to work by the hundreds over the last several years, but also by hiring and training as many as 150 refugees from Cuba, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

The Phoenix owned and operated company, which services prominent private and publicly traded residential home builders, began its refugee training program out of necessity after the economic downturn.

Determined to find qualified and skilled individuals for its growing Arizona business, Austin Electric Services turned to the Home Builder Association of Central Arizona who introduced them to Refugee Focus and the International Rescue Committee.  These organizations help displaced people who have fled their native countries, due to conflict and disaster, find work.

"The refugees came to Arizona looking for a way to feed their families and to keep a roof over their head," said Toby Thomas, president and founder of Austin Electric. "We've always been interested in helping the community and when we realized that we needed more manpower to keep up with the demand of Arizona's home building business, it seemed like a perfect fit."

In June of 2015 Austin Electric Services launched the specialized training program and hired the first 50 new workers through the two refugee organizations.  The refugees started a six-month training program to learn electrical installation. With help from Refugee Focus and the International Rescue Committee, Austin Electric also provided translators to help those who do not yet know English.

In addition to the six-month training program, Austin Electric has also helped the refugees obtain driver's licenses and provided a company vehicle in some instances for the worker to get to and from their job site.

"These are extremely dedicated and a hard working individuals," said Thomas. "It's been not only rewarding because we have a larger pool of workers but also because we've been able to put about 150 refugees back to work and we know we are doing our part at Austin Electric."

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