When Abdurrahman Mahmud moved to the U.S. in 2015, he had trouble finding a job that was on par with his level of education and work experience.

He said employers in Minnesota weren't familiar with the university in Ethiopia where he got his nursing degree nor with the humanitarian organizations for which he had worked. So he ended up taking entry-level jobs in packaging and assembly for the first couple of years in his new home.

"I was not unemployed," said Mahmud, who also goes by Abdu Rahman. "I was underemployed."

He sees other immigrants facing similar challenges. That's led to people with computer science degrees doing factory jobs and engineers working as truck drivers.

That's why a few years ago he launched Twinist, a Twin Cities-based employment service and jobs website that aims to connect immigrants with employers.

Mahmud said Twinist is different from other job boards because the employers who post there are more open-minded about hiring immigrants. As a result, job seekers tend to get more attention on the site.

"We have a large untapped workforce sitting here in the minority immigrant communities," said Mahmud. "So now we're trying to fill that gap."

Some of his plans for Twinist were delayed or put on hold by the pandemic. But he is now ramping up at a time when employers are especially desperate to find workers.

Minnesota is facing one of the tightest labor markets in the country with job postings outnumbering the unemployed by four to one.

The state unemployment rate of 1.9% is the lowest in the U.S. and has hovered at historic lows for months. The latest jobs data, due Thursday, will show whether employers have made progress in the last month in filling open jobs.

The worker shortage is due in part to a wave of retirements during the pandemic. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has been encouraging employers to recruit more from often-overlooked pools of workers, like immigrants, people with disabilities, older and younger people and people with criminal records.

Abdiwahab Mohamed, DEED's interim assistant commissioner for immigrant and refugee affairs, said there can be a number of job-related challenges for immigrants, like difficulty navigating the system, lack of required credentials or licenses, and language barriers. DEED has been addressing some of the challenges by offering grants to help internationally trained health care workers get licensed in Minnesota faster.

Immigrants have a higher labor force participation rate than native-born Minnesotans and have helped fuel a lot of the state's economic growth, Mohamed said.

"New immigrants are willing and able to work," he said. "The question is, are they working to their full potential?"

Mahmud finally got his career going in Minnesota when he landed a job at the Aliveness Project, a community health center in Minneapolis. He said that was largely due to a Kenyan American who worked there being familiar with his previous employers.

He went on to lead a storytelling and outreach project at Mixed Blood Theatre around mental health, substance abuse and sex education.

A couple months ago, Mahmud opened an office for Twinist in St. Paul, and is planning to relocate to a space in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. He said he hopes to turn it into a co-working space that other community organizations can use.

As a small business consultant for the West Bank Business Association, Mahmud said neighbors have told him they would like a shared working space.

He hopes for it to be a place where immigrant job seekers can come to get help with resumes, mock interviews and job applications.

Twinist gets a few dozen job postings and about 10,000 hits a month, he said. Employers who have posted recently include nonprofits Open Arms of Minnesota and the Family Partnership as well as the city of St. Louis Park.

Jacque Smith, communications director for St. Louis Park, said some applicants for city jobs saw the openings posted on Twinist.

Most of Twinist's services are free. But Mahmud is hoping to get traction with some paid options, such as a temp-to-hire service he's targeting for industries such as health care, manufacturing and IT. He says he will work his connections in the community and go to schools, mosques and churches to recruit workers.

While his main network is the African immigrant community, he is hoping to expand into the Latino and Asian immigrant communities.

He added that he doesn't offer help with visas, so job seekers must already have proper paperwork in place.