For over eight years, CFE has employed international employees to help fill workforce gaps during the busy seasons through its J-1 program. However, the landscape changed with the war in Ukraine. Now, the J-1 initiative has transformed into a humanitarian effort aiding displaced families by integrating into CFE employment as well as into area communities to become thriving members of their new homes.
Set the Scene
The J-1 program places vetted individuals from other countries into a nonimmigrant visa category within the United States immigration system. The J-1 visa is issued to individuals who are approved to participate in a wide range of educational and cultural exchange programs in the U.S. Participants in a J-1 program typically include students, teachers, researchers and professionals, and more—including individuals specializing in agricultural occupations. In CFE’s case, this program allows students to work and learn about the cooperative system for a one-year period. But things don’t always go as planned.
“When the Ukrainian war broke out in 2022, three Ukrainian students were working at CFE as J-1 employees,” states Sarah Ranschau, CFE Director of HR. “One student returned home to be with his family. Another was granted asylum in Canada with their family. However, our third student decided to stay in the United States with CFE, as the President announced a temporary visa status for Ukrainians.”
With the help of CFE, the student has been able to retain his status here in the United States and has since become a full-time employee of CFE.
“At the time, it was hard to fully comprehend his situation,” Sarah shares. “It was difficult for him as he would try to communicate with his family back home in a war zone while working here through his program.” During that time, CFE worked closely with immigration to help him get a temporary protected status.
“He’s doing great now. He can drive a truck and dump grain. He has grown at the locations he is working and has become one of the team,” says Sarah.
However, his stay brought new experiences to the CFE HR team, and CFE saw an even larger opportunity to help and support more people.
Working through the challenges of the Ukrainian War not only shed light on a need, but also brought about a way for CFE to spread our mission beyond our territory lines.
“Around the same time as we were facing these new hurdles, CFE brought on Darren Fehr as Director of Sales,” shares Sarah. “Darren had a connection to an organization called Workforce Hope, a humanitarian program that connects qualified refugees seeking work to employers seeking to expand their workforce.”
It wasn’t long before Sarah and Darren were making connections with Workforce Hope’s team to see what CFE had for opportunities.
“Through Workforce Hope’s initiatives, companies are able to offer employment to individuals seeking asylum with a major benefit—they can bring their family,” explains Darren. “When you have the person’s family here with them, they become rooted in the community–and that is a game changer for retaining that employee long term.”
Darren says, “Though we highly prioritize growing our team from within and with local talent, the reality is that labor remains a significant hurdle in American agriculture. Our strategy, in collaboration with Workforce Hope, aims to bridge these gaps in labor, both in seasonal demands and full-time positions.”
While having the entire family come with the new employee has the potential to create a long term team member, it also provides a whole different set of opportunities—such as community support, and population and economic growth.
“Because we are committed to helping our communities thrive and grow, we are working closely with Workforce Hope to ensure the individuals we hire are not only a fit for CFE but will integrate well into the community,” states Sarah. “Workforce understands CFE’s needs as well as the applicant’s needs, background, skills, and the details regarding their visa to ensure the relationship will be mutually beneficial for the candidate, CFE and our communities.”
Once CFE has found a good fit and has extended an offer to an individual, the immigration process starts moving, which includes immigration attorneys and paperwork. CFE also kickstarts their onboarding process to ensure the new employee and their family is set up for success when they arrive and feel welcome in their new environment.
“With these new potential employees from other countries, we guide and assist them with finding housing, securing a vehicle and any major necessities the family may need,” states Sarah.
Most of the individuals CFE employs will find their roles in cooperative operations such as truck driving, application and working in administrative offices.
“It’s imperative the candidates are able to secure a U.S. driver’s license and a social security card, so they can earn a CDL permit and driver’s license, and potentially work toward a custom applicators license,” Sarah continues. “There are a lot of moving pieces to ensure they are successful here.”
While these are all important steps, Rob Jacobs, CFE CEO, will tell you, “When we bring these individuals on with CFE, we are also bringing a family into a new community, and we want them to thrive and become productive members of the community. In order to do this, we find them a host family. Someone local that can help them get acclimated into the community.”
Even though many of the CFE communities may be small compared to the midwest metros of Sioux City or Sioux Falls, what these towns lack in population, the people make up for by emulating what a true community looks like.
“That is why Workforce Hope is such a good fit for us—tremendous people wrap around our locations. People who invest in each other and support their neighbors,” shares Rob. “Whether it’s inviting them over for a meal or offering a helping hand—there are good people always ready to help.”
An Investment with Great Returns
According to the Association for Talent Development, organizations can spend an average of $1,252 per new employee for training and development initiatives. This estimate does not include any costs associated with moving a person—let alone a family. Whether helping with immigration legal fees, education needs or initial rent payments until the candidates are on their feet, it is an investment. If at the end of a committed 2-year period, everything is aligning, CFE will touch base with the individual and help them establish a permanent residency.
Across the admin requirements, costs and management of the initiative, it may appear as quite the undertaking. However industry experts estimate that the cost of employee turnover can be as much as twice an annual salary. With the cost of recruitment, onboarding, training, lost productivity between hires, service errors and employee morale, hiring the wrong fit is always a risk. Nonetheless, the investment into these individuals has the potential for a long term partnership—especially if their family is with them.
“Getting these families involved in the community is an important factor,” states Rob. “Involvement means more of a likelihood of them staying with CFE, because they’re getting their kids into good schools, their families in safe communities and we’re providing a great place to work.”
If you are interested in becoming part of CFE’s program with Workforce Hope through hosting a family, furniture donations or other ways, please fill out the form below or contact Sarah Ranshau, CFE HR Director at 712-451-6280.
CFE Program with Workforce Hope Interest Form
Are you interested in assisting CFE’s program with Workforce Hope through hosting a family, furniture donations or other ways? If so, please fill out the following questionnaire.
For further questions please contact Sarah Ranshau, CFE HR Director at 712-451-6280.