Australia can unlock refugees’ potential to fill skills shortages, say advocates

Fraidon came to Australia from Afghanistan a year ago and after a difficult start finding a job, he now works as a software engineer.

The 21-year-old, who only wanted to give his first name to protect his family still abroad, studied computer science in Afghanistan and now lives in Sydney.

He said one of the main challenges for refugees like him was getting recognition for their education and skills.

Newcomers understood that education standards in Australia were different from those in their home country, he said, and that they needed to continue their education, even for jobs they were already qualified for. .

“They’re just struggling…they’re thinking about how to get their certificates recognized and get a job,” he said.

At the recent Jobs and Skills Summit, Home Secretary Clare O’Neil raised the cap on permanent migration to Australia to 195,000 as part of a government decision to address the labor shortages.

This has led to calls for those already here as refugees to receive more help so they can fill skills gaps.

“A huge underutilized resource”

Sandra Elhelw Wright says many migrants are exceptionally resilient in overcoming obstacles in their new country.(Provided)

Settlement Council of Australia chief executive Sandra Elhelw Wright said there were many highly skilled refugees, including those who had worked as doctors or pharmacists, who could help fill the skills gap.

Research has shown that there is already a large cohort of migrant engineers in Australia who are having long-term difficulty finding employment.

“We have a huge underutilized resource among migrants and refugees who are already in Australia,” said Ms Elhelw Wright.

“They’re incredibly talented, work very hard, but a lot of them can’t find jobs because employers either discredit the overseas experience…or there’s racism too.

“Some people may reject an app that has a foreign name.”

As a result, many refugees found themselves either unemployed for a long time or in jobs that did not match their skills and training.

Provide skilled refugees with job opportunities

A nurse rolls a resident down the hallway of a nursing home.
Nursing support staff is among the professions qualified refugees can apply for under the pilot scheme.(ABC News: Nic MacBean)

In July last year, the government launched the Skilled Refugee Work Agreementin collaboration with Talent beyond borders (TBB), to help qualified refugees find work.

There were initially 100 places over a two-year pilot period, the Home Office said.

“The pilot program is a practical example of how companies and business leaders in Australia can access refugee talent to address skills shortages,” the department said.

In April 2022, the government added 50 additional places for Ukrainian nationals and 50 for Afghan nationals and their families.

However, as the Albanian government has pledged to “gradually increase” the number of Australian refugees to 27,000 a year, many organizations say the pilot program cap could also be increased.

The Refugee Council of Australia, for example, has called on the government to increase the number of places from 200 to 500 this year, with the cap rising to 10,000 places in 2025.

In a report published last month, the Refugee Council said the expansion to 500 places was feasible.

“Particularly against the backdrop of considerable private sector interest in attracting overseas talent and meeting corporate social responsibility goals,” the council said in the report.

He needs “a lot of collaboration”

A group of people standing on a stage
Settlement Services International is a non-profit community organization that connects refugees and employers.(Provided)

According to Settlement Services International (SSI), overseas skills recognition was part of “complex systems” that required “a long and very difficult process” of completing paperwork, providing proof of skills and finally – getting qualifications recognised. in Australia.

Some refugees have not been able to obtain diplomas or qualifications in employment, education or training when they fled their country of origin.

As many skills and talents already in the country were not being used, community organizations like SSI stepped in.

“We help the refugee navigate all of these complex systems to try to get their overseas qualifications recognized in Australia,” said Joudi Lazkany, employment manager at SSI.

There are still reports of a labor shortage in the hospitality sector.(ABC South East NSW: Adriane Reardon)

She said the scheme – funded by the NSW government – ​​has also developed personalized employment pathways.

“We educate employers about how they can work with this community, but more importantly, we help them break a lot of the stigma,” she said.

Ms Lazkany told the ABC that SSI had helped 8,000 refugees and 2,000 asylum seekers in western Sydney over the past five years, including Fraidon.

“On average, 35% of our participants gain employment within the first eight to nine months of service,” she said.

When he joined the program, Fraidon was able to work with SSI to develop ways to find employment.

Ms Lazkany said their “unique approach” offered refugees the opportunity to develop an employment plan with employers.

“It requires a lot of collaboration between many stakeholders from state and federal governments and industry,” Ms. Lazkany said.

Create a ripple effect

Four men, three wearing high visibility work shirts, seated on stairs.
Hedayat Osyan (right) helped three construction workers start their own tiling business.(Provided)

Hedayat Osyan also struggled to find work after arriving in Australia from Afghanistan in 2010 by boat.

“I started everything from scratch, I had no family or connection, it was quite difficult and difficult to navigate the system,” he said.

After other refugees told him of their difficulties in entering the job market, or worse being exploited by employers, he founded Construction Community in Sydney’s west.

Although with limited resources, he said the company had hired and trained 76 refugees over the past five years.

A man with glasses and curly hair smiling at the camera
Osyan hopes the government will make it easier to recognize experience abroad.(Provided)

Once the refugees were employed by his company, they were trained and worked for formal qualifications at local TAFEs.

Mr Osyan said three of them have now set up their own tiling businesses and are hiring more refugees.

“They felt very empowered because they can contribute to society and they can help their families,” he told the ABC.

Ms Elhelw Wright said ‘making it simple’ and providing support for newcomers to Australia would make their lives more fulfilling.

“We cannot see migrants only in economic terms, we have to see them in both economic and social terms,” ​​she said.

“And to compete on the world stage and attract global talent, we need to be known as a company that supports people who come here.”

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