AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid a national driver shortage and demand for commercial driver’s license (CDL) certified candidates, Austin-based nonprofit Global Impact Initiative (Gii) and CapMetro have partnered on training and job opportunities for refugees and other marginalized community members.

Gii is an Austin-based nonprofit centered around educational and workforce development globally, but has specifically zeroed in on assisting Austin’s growing refugee community. This summer, Gii launched its online CDL exam preparation course, incorporating ESL instruction to help students become proficient in English and able to sit for the written exam.

Now, students who pass the knowledge portion of the exam are eligible to be hired as apprentices with CapMetro, with positions starting at $22 an hour.

“We have been actively recruiting bus operators for a while and trying to leave no stone unturned,” Dottie Watkins, interim president and CEO of CapMetro, said. “We were contacted by the institute to figure out if we might be in need of licensed drivers and said, ‘Why of course we are.’ And thus was born a conversation that led to a partnership.”

Many CDL training programs can cost several thousand dollars. Currently, Gii estimates its training program costs $1,000 per student, with expenses covered by donations and other fundraising initiatives.

“It’s very, very important for them to have a job and start making a living quickly. But we want them to have a job that fills their skill sets.”

Anjum Malik, founder and executive director, Global Impact Initiative

“When we started looking at it more in depth and said, ‘okay, is this something that can be done better?’ That does not dilute the quality of the program, the quality of the training, but it’s affordable,” Anjum Malik, founder and executive director of Gii, said.

Refugee Services of Texas projected more than 1,000 Afghan refugees would resettle in Austin by the end of September, just over a year after the Afghanistan crisis and massive pullout. For community members new to the United States, Malik said this program offers them higher-paying employment opportunities and stability.

Through this collaboration, she added it will be “a game changer” for refugees resettling in Central Texas.

“A lot of [refugees] are Uber and Lyft drivers,” she said. “So putting the two together was really a good, good deal. And just helping them pass the test and with Capital Metro — that was the icing on the cake.”