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Refugees ready to work but need specialised help

Farhat was resettled to Australia after fleeing from Afghanistan following the takeover by the Taliban in August 2021.

In Afghanistan, he worked for 4 years as a judge in a provincial court, and had a Bachelor’s Degree in Law from Kabul University.

He joined the HOST Employment Coaching program and was supported to link with a mentor from the legal profession who, together with HOST, assisted him to identify and prepare for interviews. As a result, he secured a junior legal role at the ASX.

He now has a plan for developing his English and legal skills, and to use this opportunity and his new professional networks to rebuild his career in Australia

Why do refugees need specialised employment assistance?

Refugees are defined by the fact that they have had to leave their country of origin in search of safety from persecution and harm. This often occurs without the opportunity to plan and without knowing where you will end up. Many refugees wait for many years to secure a visa to a country of safety where they can rebuild their lives.

Most of the refugees we work with have completed tertiary studies and have worked in professional roles prior to fleeing due to war, conflict or politics. They have knowledge about how to apply for a job and experience in professional workplaces that include multi-national companies, local and foreign governments, and international charities.

What they do not generally have is local social and professional networks that will open doors to employment opportunities, local contextual information and employment references.

Despite this, employment services typically focus on job search and application skills such as resume preparation and interview skills.

Some programs will also include information about the Australian workforce and employment relations but very few actually support the development of professional networks.

The other thing that refugees struggle with is complex regulatory systems associated with recognition of professional qualifications and skills and inherent bias as a result of their status as a refugee and a foreign employee.

Addressing these barriers requires work with both refugees and hiring staff to ensure that stereotypes of refugees, such as being unskilled with low English capability, are not maintained.

Late last year, HOST International partnered with MAX Solutions to survey CALD clients from both organisations to help us capture the core barriers to employment that they face.

We found that the most common feedback to job knock-backs is that they lacked local relevant work experience or locally recognised qualifications. Many struggled to overcome these barriers as they could not secure work experience at any level and/or could not afford to secure the necessary recognition of skills or gap training in Australia.

Some also experienced hardship even though they had a good level of English and had a locally recognised qualification.

In this report, nearly half of respondents had over 10 years work experience prior to arriving in Australia and 65% were confident in speaking and writing English. 56% found it difficult to locate information about education and training options and 74% found it difficult to get the right support to find a job.

We found that women faced additional barriers and that many participants had been unable to find employment after several years in Australia.

Right now, Australia has one of the lowest unemployment rates it has seen for a long time and employers are crying out for workers, yet HOST is working with job seekers who can not secure an interview.

So, what is the solution?

HOST International has been working with migrants and refugees to help them secure employment in cities and regional communities throughout Australia since 2019.

During this time, we have developed a targeted model that aims to respond to the specialised needs of refugees as they settle into Australia.

We are currently building an evidence base around this work through an independent evaluation supported by the University of NSW in Sydney.

Our experience tells us that refugees need assistance in three core domains:

  1. Job seeking skills – learning how to best identify and prepare for job opportunities in the market including social media profiles and interview preparation

  2. Professional networking – building professional connections that facilitate local industry specific job knowledge and mentoring relationships that support motivation and referee options.

  3. Career planning – skills, knowledge and strategies to address known barriers and to develop a plan for achieving their desired career outcome

In addition, we have found that refugees face additional challenges due to gaps in their employment history due to displacement.

The longer refugees remain unemployed, the harder it is to secure employment. Therefore, an employment focus must be established as soon as possible after arrival in Australia.

Additionally, it is not enough to just provide information and build connections and send them on their way. For some, this works but most will need some support as they implement and test the strategies they have learned.

Finally, we have also found that when facing challenges it is useful to see and hear from others who have walked a similar journey and overcome the challenges to get a job outcome they were seeking.

This helps to build motivation and self-efficacy and ensures an appropriate level of persistence in reaching their goals and securing employment.

To achieve the above, it is critical that employment services work closely with industry and employers to ensure that the right matches can be found and that bias is minimised.

What else can be done?

The Jobs and Skills Summit, has been seeking to find solutions to the current job shortages and to increase wages and productivity. This requires cooperation from all sectors.

We recommend the following strategies to ensure that refugees are able to be part of the solution:

  1. Ensure that specialised employment services are funded for refugees that emphasise professional networking and employment self-efficacy

  2. Work with states and territories to establish a nationally-consistent skills recognition program for refugees

  3. Establish a loans scheme for professionals that require accreditation assessments such as medical doctors

  4. Implement more flexible language development programs that include on the job or job specific language supports.ties at all levels rather than just as graduate level

  5. Encourage established professionals to mentor a newcomer into the profession

  6. Facilitate opportunities for refugees and employers to meet and learn from/about each other and break down stereotypes

  7. Review English access requirements for tertiary study and consider concurrent language supports

  8. Implement more flexible language development programs that include on the job or job specific language supports

For more information on the findings, view the full report here.

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