The Buechel Story – How a Stone Quarry in rural Wisconsin is building a solid foundation for newcomers
A little over four years ago, in the fall of 2013, a Buechel Stone hired their first refugee employee. Buechel Stone Corp. is a quarry in Chilton, WI that strives to provide quality and dependable experiences in the natural stone industry. Little did any of us know that this experience would develop into a highly valued partnership between a refugee resettlement agency and a stone quarry in Wisconsin. I don’t think anyone involved anticipated the impact this initial hire would grow to have on refugees, Buechel staff, and World Relief as a whole, but we are here today reflecting on those very things. In the years since that first year Buechel began employing refugees they have held tax seminars with WRFV staff to educate their employees, collected Christmas donations annually to help welcome newcomers, and constantly strove to insure their refugee employees felt comfortable, heard and respected.
We connected with April Dowland, Vice President of Human Resources and Operations, who was one of World Relief’s very first contacts in the beginning stages of this partnership. April has been with Buechel for around five years now, our office was first introduced to her when she was an HR manager. April has gained a lot of insight since 2013, she reminds us that even receiving cultural orientation and explanation can’t prepare someone from being dropped into a whole new country to build a life. She believes that part of her role is to really help their refugee employees navigate the gap she has seen between explanation and true understanding. Employment is so much more than working your shift and going home, Dowland points out that work is actually weaved into many aspects of life (such as insurance, taxes, retirement savings, etc.) and that without understanding these things it’s really quite challenging to get involved in many of the larger aspects of life here. She feels that the experience of helping refugees navigate these things has really brought her so much closer to many of the individuals she works with.
For employers, hiring refugees can come with a lot of challenges and hesitancies. There are language barriers, sometimes a lack of experience in their particular job field, and cultural differences, to name a few. But there are many positives and growth opportunities as well; hardworking eligible employees, increased staff diversity, and opportunities to bridge cultural gaps, to name a few. April remembers the company being initially nervous about incorporating new language into their culture and wanting their training and communication to remain consistent but feels the Buechel Team has grown together in this process. Dowland expressed, “It is important for Buechel Stone to employ refugees because we have seen the effects it has had on our culture. Our company is growing and we are always looking for people with good work ethic. With our company culture becoming more diverse, it has brought in new ideas and challenged our status quo. Through this we have become a stronger, better Buechel Stone.”
It's easy to see how passionate April is both in Buechel Stone as a company and in embracing diversity and inviting others to be a part of the team. In addition to the company’s growth and learning experiences, April herself has had memorable experiences and we were thrilled when she shared some of those with us! April described interactions between a Burmese speaking employee newer to the company and a long term employee who spoke Spanish. One day a newer refugee employee (speaks Burmese) came up to my office upset that a long term employee (speaks Spanish) didn’t have a locker in the men’s locker room. I was confused because everyone that wants a locker can have one. I explained this to the newer refugee employee and proceeded to assign a locker to the long term employee. Later that day the newer employee came up and explained that the long term employee just didn’t want a locker. The best part of that story was how they had a conversation and got to know each other through their common limited amount of English. They remained close for a long time after this. It always warmed my heart to seeing them talking. The other great part of this story is that they worked together and the long term employee trained the new refugee in various parts production. It just goes to show that language isn’t a barrier to employment. This is the kind of story that makes us laugh and leaves us smiling. Though, April also has had the opportunity to discuss workplace safety with their employees and has learned a lot about the difference in safety that some of her employees have faced back home. These experiences have made a difference both on Buechel Stone as a company, on April herself, and on many of the other employees.
There are many contributing factors to Buechel’s success, for one, April described some similarities between the culture of the surrounding area, and the one that many refugees come from. Buechel Stone’s manufacturing plant is in rural Wisconsin in a section called, the Holyland. In the Holyland, villages each have a church, a bar and a supper club. She describes the people living in these areas as individuals with a strong work ethic and high family values, with a focus on religion. Many refugees share those values so they have seen an easy blend in many senses. But April also believes the company has a culture of welcoming and a positive approach to this as well. “I am so proud of our team because we work together and never let barriers become an issue. Our culture is so unique and yet we don’t see it. We accept people for who they are and move on. So a refugee isn’t a refugee but is “Jason.” Everyone is unique and put together we make the Buechel Team.”.
We have several wonderful employer partnerships, companies interested in hiring refugees new to the area and helping them achieve self-sufficiency. What we have found in working with these companies, like Buechel, is that they have the opportunity to be (and often are) so much more than an employer. Companies work hard to develop relationships, provide educational opportunities for newly arrived refugees, learn about different cultures, and become mentors to many of the individuals who were once strangers.
Is your company looking to hire? April lists the following as advice for other companies considering hiring refugees:
- I think it is important for your team to be ready for communication challenges.Have some strategies prepared on how you would proceed when you encounter those.
- You need to be flexible in your training program.Similar to any other employee, you need to have options on how people can learn various topics.
- Be ready to listen
- Try to put yourself in their shoes, how would you feel?
We would love to talk to you about employing refugees! Please contact us at: 920-231-3600 for more information.