Cap Metro Taps Refugee Population for Employment

Bus driver shortage and Austin’s newest residents both aided

Refugees receive training from Global Impact Initiative (Gii) (Courtesy of Global Impact Initiative)

With two new MetroRapid lines scheduled to begin service toward the end of 2023 as a part of Project Connect, Cap Metro needs to bring on board more drivers and mechanics. To that end, the transit authority announced a partnership in October with the Austin-based organization Global Impact Initiative (Gii) to provide training opportunities for the city's refugee population.

"Agreements like this are important to us as an agency as it's a priority to help serve the community, however we can. This agreement is aimed at more than just expanding our team; it's also an opportunity to support our community and help our newest residents who may be in a vulnerable situation find secure employment and help them establish a firm foundation in our region," a Cap Metro spokesperson said in an email, adding that this is the first refugee hiring program in the agency's history.

As a part of the program, Gii, which provides education and workforce development opportunities to underserved communities worldwide, will offer an entry-level driver's training course so that trainees can receive a commercial driver's license. And Cap Metro will look to hire those trainees at rates starting at $22 per hour. Gii founder and Executive Director Anjum Malik noted in an Oct. 14 press release announcing the partnership that many refugees already have skills that could benefit Cap Metro.

While Cap Metro has recently struggled to have enough operators and mechanics to operate its bus routes, it now has adequate front-line staff, according to the spokesperson. However, it is still looking to hire to increase service levels in the future and for Project Connect – it has previously estimated a need for more than 100 bus operators for the new east-west Expo Center and north-south Pleasant Valley MetroRapid routes.

Gii Vice President of Operations Shawn Smith said in an email that the nonprofit is currently working to formalize partnerships with public transit agencies around the country. Smith noted the twofold importance of providing employment to the refugee population. "The transition to full-time, substantial employment is a milestone for refugees in two ways. First, it opens up consistent access to resources allowing families to be self-sufficient. Second, there is enormous pride that comes with that self-sufficiency, as well as being contributing members of their new communities," he said.

Gii is currently working primarily with Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, but Smith added that they've also helped the Bosnian and Iranian populations. They also have a number of Austin-based partners, including Austin Jews for Refugees, Muslim Community Support Services, and Central Texas Food Bank.

"This is truly a win-win situation," said Bob Ewigleben, director of Gii's commercial driver's license program, in the press release. "A win for refugees and members of other underserved communities seeking economic independence, and a win for transportation companies desperately in need of qualified commercial motor vehicle drivers."

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