Of the highly trained humanitarian skilled migrants entering Australia, few end up in jobs that make use of their skills. Some companies, however, are beginning to realise what they’re missing out on.
Rami Yousifani, a graduate in computer communications engineering from the Al Mansoor University College in Baghdad, arrived in Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program last September. Despite having in-demand skills, he was one of many skilled migrants almost certain of not finding employment.
“I didn’t have an Australian degree, local work experience or local references, which I was told were essential for getting a job. So, I decided to refine my communication skills and enrolled at an English language school, Navitas English in Fairfield,” says Yousifani.
Before escalating conflict in Iraq forced him and his parents and brother to seek protection in Australia where they have extended family, Yousifani was working at Iraq’s largest internet service provider. Of the other members of Yousifani’s family who migrated with him, his father is an electronics engineer and his mother has a bachelor’s degree in business management. They are both learning English to improve their language skills. His brother has begun studying medical science again at UTS. All are hoping to find a foothold in the Australian workforce sometime soon.
Australia’s immigration program has two components – the humanitarian program for refugees and asylum seekers, who are forced to flee their native countries due to armed conflict and human rights abuses; and the migration program for skilled and family migrants, who come to Australia voluntarily.
In 2015-16, Australia granted 17,555 visa applications. In 2014, when a little over 11,000 visas were granted, only around 17 per cent of humanitarian migrants were in paid work 18 months after arriving in Australia, according to a Centre for Policy Development (CPD) report.
Most humanitarian migrants do not find work commensurate with their skills and qualifications and often need to work in low skilled jobs, such as labouring, drivers and machinery operators.
While 60 per cent of employed humanitarian migrants held high skilled jobs before coming to Australia, a little over a quarter of them are in high skilled positions once they arrive, according to the CPD report.
Yousifani has been one of the fortunate ones. Soon after arrival, he was referred to the skilled humanitarian entrant workforce transition program run by CareerSeekers, a non-profit social enterprise, which works with migrant settlement service agencies to provide targeted job placement for experienced, tertiary-qualified humanitarian entrants, with full working rights.
After attending the CareerSeekers’ five-day pre-employment training last November, Yousifani was offered a 12-week paid internship at Ericsson, communications technology and servicing company.
“I am working on the IT help desk. It has been an easy transition as everyone has been kind, welcoming and supportive. We work as a team and each day, I am learning something new, an opportunity I wouldn’t have got in my native country.”
Yousifani says CareerSeekers’ involvement has helped to boost his confidence and made him hopeful of better career prospects.
Winners all round
Michael Combs, founder of CareerSeekers, says: “By providing these highly skilled humanitarian migrants with an internship it affords them an opportunity to adjust to the Australian workplace, and for the employer to assess the intern’s ability, with the objective of ultimately finding a suitable, quality role.” It also helps to meet corporate Australia’s desire for a more culturally diverse workforce, adds Combs.
Businesses, including Ericsson and investment bank J.P. Morgan, have initiated programs to engage humanitarian migrants. Diane Samaroo, Ericsson’s chair of Australia and New Zealand Diversity and Inclusion Council, has observed a visible difference in the confidence of internship candidates within a short period of them joining the company.
“These roles have a very clear purpose,” says Samaroo. “We want this [internship] to be meaningful for the candidate. Managers ensure that they are matching the skills and experience to the needs of the role, and that we are providing the candidates with the right opportunities to develop their longer-term career aspirations. Initially, they come in for 12 weeks, but our aim is to develop the opportunity for them beyond that.”
“There is a real sense of pride among the workforce about this program and what we are doing to help people in this situation.” – Diane Samaroo, chair of Australia & New Zealand Diversity and Inclusion Council, Ericsson.
Since Ericsson commenced partnering with CareerSeekers in July 2016, six CareerSeekers participants have interned with the company. Ericsson are looking to increase that number to 10 or 12 interns by the end of 2017.
“There is a real sense of pride among the workforce about the program and what we are doing to help people in this situation,” says Samaroo. “Our business strategy is driven by creativity and innovation and it is very much focused on building a pipeline of talent. In order to maximise that, we need to have a diversity of thought, skills and experience. CareerSeekers has enabled us to bring into the organisation people from a variety of backgrounds, who have different experiences to those people who are already here.”
CareerSeekers is being helped by Social Ventures Australia [SVA] which helps organisations to access grant funding and build networks, and make their donations go further – as well as providing advice on how to scale programs.
J.P. Morgan is supporting SVA and Career-Seekers to assist this segment of the community gain access to quality jobs. Rob Priestley, CEO of J.P. Morgan Australia and New Zealand, says: “Through this program, which matches skilled labour with private sector employment opportunities, we are committed to improving the lives of those in our community who have started to adapt to a new way of life, and who have the right to work but need guidance on developing their careers in Australia.”
J.P. Morgan’s support enables CareerSeekers to deliver pre-employment training for 102 participants, who will then complete a 12-week paid internship with the aim of converting into a full-time job aligned with their professional background.
Among the federal government’s list of skills shortages are professionals in IT, financial services, engineering, agriculture and horticulture, automotive trades, building and construction, childcare, health and social assistance. Combs notes that a lot of humanitarian migrants have engineering, IT and financial services backgrounds and they can help fill those shortages across multiple industries.
“The first questions organisations ask, are: ‘Are you an Australian citizen? Are you a permanent resident in Australia?” explains Combs. “But what they really want to know is: ‘Do you have working rights?’ We are starting from a place of ‘here is good talent that you want to hire anyway, but your current systems and practices stop that from happening’. Our job is to clarify those baseline processes that excludes pockets of our community from being hired, so there is a level playing field when it comes to employment.”
“Everyone in my office has been kind, welcoming and supportive. Each day I am learning something new, an opportunity I would have never got in my native country.” – Rami Yousifani, IT intern and humanitarian migrant
Permanent forced migration, however, comes with its own set of challenges, he says. “It’s about making sure that the people who are resettling here have a solid understanding of Australian workplace culture, the humour, things like sport and the ceremonies and rituals in which we partake, because it’s unique.”
Yousifani is gradually picking up the Australian way during informal conversations with his colleagues over lunch. He values the freedom, flexibility and above all safety he experiences in Australia.
“This feeling of being safe when I am going to work and getting home, is most important. My office in Baghdad was only a short distance from home, but it was fraught with danger. I had to be always on my guard and be on the lookout for a safer route, to dodge bullets and exploding [landmines]. It was so stressful that it made it difficult to concentrate and enjoy what I was doing. Here, even though I have a 90-minute daily commute each way, I am relaxed,” he says with a smile.
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Fact sheet: Asylum seekers entering Australia
In addition to the 17,555 visas granted under the 2015-16 Humanitarian Program, the Federal Government announced it will take an additional 12,000 people displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Between July 2015 and March 2017, 21,483 visas were granted to applicants from the two countries under the Humanitarian Program.
Statistics from Department of Immigration and Border Protection