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Within Australia's borders lies an untapped, skilled and motivated workforce: refugees, ready to contribute and thrive.

Matching skilled refugees with available jobs is not only inclusive and equitable, it makes good economic sense. : Pexels: Sora Shimazaki Free to use Matching skilled refugees with available jobs is not only inclusive and equitable, it makes good economic sense. : Pexels: Sora Shimazaki Free to use

Within Australia’s borders lies an untapped, skilled and motivated workforce: refugees, ready to contribute and thrive.

Australia is struggling to attract a global talent pool to fill its widespread skills shortages — or so the recent rhetoric around proposed changes to the nation’s migration schemes suggests.

In reality, within Australia’s borders lies an untapped, skilled, and motivated workforce: refugees, ready to contribute and thrive.

Only 6 percent of refugees find work within six months of arrival, and within two years of arrival, only 23 percent of refugees are employed. Employment rates increase as refugees stay longer in Australia, but that rise is only incremental: 32 percent are in work five years after relocating.

That’s despite research showing thousands of migrants and refugees — 6,240 in Queensland alone — have the very skills Australia’s workforce needs, but are underutilised. The most recent government figures show skills shortages impact more than one-third of occupations, with the most significant shortages including technicians, tradies, and health professionals.

As a recent report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia pointed out, the nation’s failure to match the skills of refugees and other migrants to the most appropriate jobs “is holding back productivity at a time of historically weak productivity growth”.

That means matching skilled refugees with available jobs is not only inclusive and equitable, it makes good economic sense.

Common challenges to finding work

Despite these potential benefits, refugees face a range of barriers in securing employment. So multi-layered and significant are these challenges that we have even coined a phrase to highlight this struggle: “the canvas ceiling”.

Common challenges faced by job-seeking refugees include limited language proficiency, challenges in validating overseas qualifications, lack of local references and restricted professional networks.

Visa conditions and employers’ biases and discrimination pose additional hurdles.

Attitudes from the public — exacerbated by the charged sociopolitical atmosphere surrounding refugees — amplify the challenges faced by migrants in general.

Meanwhile, insufficient support services and cultural differences can hinder refugees’ integration into the workforce.

Collaboration helps overcome barriers

Recent findings suggest about half of Australian businesses are interested in hiring refugees. But many employers don’t know where to start — and it is difficult to turn intention into action alone.

Cross-sector collaboration, whereby businesses work closely with refugee employment experts and training providers, is one key approach helping employers understand the challenges, then find and onboard refugee talent.

For businesses, collaboration with service providers reduces the costs associated with creating separate recruitment and training programs and minimises other resources required to establish successful induction and retention systems. These partnerships can also help hiring managers understand refugees’ home-country qualifications and experiences.

This symbiotic collaboration helps refugees integrate better into the workplace culture (for example, by providing pre-employment training) and thus, perform better in the organisation. Meanwhile, businesses are able to source more diverse talent that is tailored to their needs.

Cross-sector collaboration has been used successfully by Industry collaboration overseas, including in the US and Jordan.

In Australia, IKEA and Woolworths Group are among the larger players which have successfully embraced collaborative partnerships with a social enterprise. Since 2018, Woolworths has placed more than 330 refugees from more than 20 countries in supermarkets, customer fulfilment centres and into tech roles, while in 2020 IKEA launched a pilot program to offer paid eight-week work placements to 180 refugees.

This program has since moved to a permanent pillar of recruitment, and more than 215 refugees of 23 diverse cultural backgrounds speaking 42 different languages have been employed at IKEA. Both companies work with a social enterprise, Community Corporate, that supports their efforts.

But it’s still an emerging approach and in Australia, few employers use or even understand these collaborative approaches.

Other solutions, and where to start

Other approaches can help skilled refugees gain suitable work, too. The recent Committee for Economic Development of Australia report recommended expanding migrants’ access to English-language training, including occupation-specific language training. It also recommended Australia better recognise migrants’ international qualifications and work experience.

That report also called for initiatives to tackle employment discrimination.

Businesses looking to boost refugee employment can also consider mentoring refugee jobseekers, or offering paid internships or traineeships to facilitate refugees’ initial entry into employment.

Employers interested in cross-sector collaboration specifically might consider talking to local social enterprises or not-for-profit organisations specialising in refugee employment support. They can also consult this guide to advancing collaborative solutions.

Ultimately, there are plenty of reasons for businesses to consider hiring refugees. In a recent study of 100 corporations in Germany, employers listed a diverse set of benefits their company derived from employing refugees including enhanced creativity, increased productivity, higher retention rates and stronger market positioning. Recent research in Denmark found that hiring refugees can contribute to an increase in business’ financial performance.

Similarly, there are good reasons for businesses to consider cross-sector collaboration in their quest to hire more refugees. This model not only helps drive social impact, but addresses the labour market’s current need for talent across a range of areas.

Dr Eun Su Lee is a Lecturer in Management at the University of Newcastle’s Business School, within the College of Human and Social Futures. Her research interests lie in the fields of international human resource management and global mobility, focusing on migrants’ integration journeys in foreign countries and the role of support organisations in facilitating such integrative efforts.

Professor Betina Szkudlarek, PhD, is Professor of International Management at the University of Sydney Business School. Betina is a world-renowned expert on refugee workforce integration and cross-cultural management, as well as a Strategic Sustainability and Growth Consultant with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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