This University of Sydney report will help bridge refugee employment gaps

SOURCE: Maria Teneva/Unsplash
This report will gather insights from employers on refugee employment benefits and challenges.

By U2B Staff 

Read all stories

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, refugees have been settling in Australia since as early as 1901 and their numbers continue to grow in the year 1945 onwards. Despite these growing numbers, refugee employment rates still remain low. 

These refugees who are diverse in terms of country of origin, socio-economical and education background, as well as the level of proficiency in English, not only struggle to assimilate into the new community but also find it extremely difficult to acquire employment due to these factors. 

Reports indicate that more than 80 percent of asylum seekers and refugees face unemployment 18 months after arriving in Australia, mainly due to the lack of language proficiency, local references and work experience. 

In order to tackle this severe issue of refugee unemployment, an ambitious report by University of Sydney Business School Associate Professor Betina Szkudlarek in partnership with the Centre for Policy Development and Boston Consulting Group sought to investigate perceptions of employers who actively employed refugees and those who did not. 

Entitled ‘Engaging business in refugee employment’, the aim of the study was to gain insight into the employers’ perceptions, misconceptions and experiences of the integration of refugees into the workforce. 


Benefits outweigh disadvantages 

According to the report findings, employers who hired refugees found that the benefits of hiring them managed to offset the disadvantages. 

During the study, employers said that hiring refugees gave them the ability to cater to certain customer bases since these refugees would be able to communicate in their local language and have a sense of cultural sensitivity. 

Other benefits included the substantial work ethic of refugee employees and the diverse perspectives they brought to the workplace. 

It was found that many employers who had hired refugees described them to be eager to learn, hardworking, and committed. 

On the other hand, the report states that challenges following refugee employment such as visa status, work rights, uncertainty about the duration of stay and absenteeism were less of a concern for employers who hired and sought to hire refugees compared to employers who did not hire them at all. 

As far as the latter is concerned, Szkudlarek explained that many employers hadn’t even considered turning to the refugee community when seeking potential recruits. 

refugee employment
Many refugees struggle to find employment long after they’ve arrived in Australia. Source: pixpoetry/Unsplash.

Recommendations for employers 

In order to bridge the employment gap for refugees in Australia, the report also provided several broad recommendations to advocate the employment and retention of refugees. 

“There is a great opportunity for Australian business and the community as a whole. Building on this report, we are now working together on a more detailed set of policy options to help convert this opportunity into a widespread reality,” said Centre for Policy Development programme director Annabel Brown. 

The listed recommendations in the report consist of in-depth measures to improve employers’ general approach to refugee employment and involve areas such as public awareness, funding initiatives, social procurement prioritisation, closing refugee skill gaps, and community mentorship and collaboration. 

“Ultimately, the successful hiring and retention of refugees requires a long-term, holistic approach, involving management, the government and the community,” explained Szkudlarek. 

The report emphasises the need for the government to work towards facilitating industry-relevant interaction between employers and refugee job-seekers through training, mentoring, and networking opportunities as well as other forms of professional support to improve the climate for hiring refugees. 

Identifying and prioritising refugee groups and enterprises in procurement programmes is also recommended to bolster employment opportunities within the community and create a healthy relationship between employers and these groups. 


Supporting refugee employment  

The report also urges the government to provide funding and support for social enterprises and NGOs that advocate refugee employment and actively link job seekers with employers. 

One of these NGOs is CareerSeekers, an organisation which provides internship and upskilling programmes that aims to support asylum seekers and refugees into professional careers. 

The organisation caters to two distinct groups of refugees which are mid-career professionals and university students. 

Existing professionals intending to restart their careers in Australia will be given the opportunity to undertake a paid internship under the programme that will not only provide them with local experience but also a local reference which will enable them to secure employment in the future. 

University students will be able to participate in the CareerSeekers university programme which aligns to existing corporate internship programmes that the students will be undertaking under their respective universities. 

“CareerSeekers supports corporate Australia’s focus on cultural diversity while tackling the issue of underemployment of asylum seekers and refugees,” said CareerSeekers CEO Peter Baynard-Smith. 

 “We provide participants with intensive training and support so they can take up 12-week internships and we create a risk-free opportunity for employers to expand their workforce.”

“Employing refugees is good for the head and the heart,” he added 

“It’s a good business decision. You diversify your office, which makes for a more creative and cohesive environment; you get access to a valuable talent pool; and you deliver on your corporate social responsibility strategy.”

Next steps 

This report merely touches the surface of refuge employment and makes room for various advanced research efforts and collaborations to delve deeper into the topic. 

Szkudlarek and partners are planning to advance their research and collaborate with a wider variety of stakeholders to expand a more in-depth set of recommendations for the government and policy-makers which will be published in an additional report. 

The Engaging Business in Refugee Employment full report can be accessed online here.