Why you should hire refugees

Discover the benefits of employing refugees and how to get started
Research shows that refugee employees have high productivity and low turnover rates. Professor Betina Szkudlarek has developed resources to help employers access this untapped talent pool.

Barriers to refugee employment

Refugees struggle with barriers to employment and data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows only a quarter of refugees who arrive in Australia find employment within two years of arriving in the country.

The systemic challenges faced by refugees in finding employment have been dubbed the "canvas ceiling" by researchers Professor Betina Szkudlarek from the University of Sydney and Dr Eun Su (Jeannie) Lee from the University of Newcastle.

Barriers to refugee employment include discrimination, a lack of networks and understanding of local job markets, and possessing qualifications and skills that aren't recognised.

"Once those barriers are lowered, or better yet, removed, the benefits for business and employees flow," Professor Betina Szkudlarek says.

Research Highlights with Betina Szkudlarek

Overcoming the canvas ceiling: promoting refugee employment

The benefits of hiring refugees

Case studies have shown that hiring refugees offers many benefits for the organisations, refugees and their families, and the receiving country.

Access a diversity of skills and expertise.


Expand your customer base and supply chains with access to new local and international markets.


Increase your innovation capability through fresh perspectives of refugee workers.


Foster a sense of purpose in your organisation through a culturally diverse workplace that is inclusive to refugees.


Help refugees and their families to rebuild their lives in their new home countries.

Many employers have stressed that refugees' productivity is higher than that of the local workforce.
Professor Betina Szkudlarek

In partnership with Community Corporate, IKEA Australia runs eight-week paid placements through which refugee job seekers learn about Australian workplace culture, build confidence in using English and gain professional references.

Many participants in the IKEA Skills for Employment Program have secured ongoing work with IKEA, such as Zeynab, who settled in Australia in 2018.

"For two years I applied for job after job with no success. I felt hopeless," Zeynab says. "I wanted to work so badly but no one would give me the opportunity to show what I could do."

After completing the IKEA Australia Skills for Employment program, Zeynab works as a Logistics Co-worker at IKEA Adelaide and is undertaking a course to prepare for future university study — an opportunity she could never have had in Iran.

Harriet Pope, IKEA Skills for Employment Program Project Leader, says the program has been mutually enriching for participants and the business, creating a more diverse work environment and access to new co-workers who are highly motivated, adaptable and loyal.

"It's also opened learning and development opportunities for our co-workers as they mentor program participants and enabled us to better support the needs of our diverse customers," Harriet says.

How to hire refugees

Employers who want to hire refugees often do not know where to start.

The Employers Guide to Refugee Employment, written by Professor Szkudlarek and Dr Lee in collaboration with the Crescent Foundation, contains practical tips for employers looking to successfully hire and integrate refugees into their organisations.

Resources for employing refugees

Employer resources

To find practical resources on how employers can improve refugee workforce integration, please visit the following websites:

Community Corporate

A national award-winning social enterprise, Community Corporate specialises in working with refugee and migrant communities. Their employer-led model includes key services such as workforce planning and recruitment, cultural confidence training, recruitment process audits, pre-employment programs, non-accredited training, job coaching, direct inclusive recruitment, and more.

  • Sectors: all (entry level through to skilled areas in IT, finance, engineering and business services)
  • Location of services: National
  • Contact:

For recommendations for employers who are new to hiring refugees, download the How to Bridge the Gap Between Intention and Action report (pdf, 1MB).

Policymaker resources

For recommendations on how public policy could support employers to successfully employ refugees:

Lee ES, Szkudlarek B, Nguyen DC, and Nardon L 2020 'Unveiling canvas ceiling: A multidisciplinary literature review and research agenda of refugee employment and workforce integration', International Journal of Management Reviews, 22(2), 193-216

Lee ES, Szkudlarek B, Nguyen DC and Nardon L 2018 'Elephant in the room: IHRM and refugee workforce integration', Australia and New Zealand International Business Academy (ANZIBA) Conference, Brisbane, Australia, 2nd February 2018

Nardon L, Zhang H, Szkudlarek B, and Gulanowski D 2020 'Identity work in refugee workforce integration: The role of newcomer support organizations.' Human Relations. In-press

Nardon L, Zhang H, Szkudlarek B and Gulanowski D 2018 Forthcoming 'Supporting refugee workforce integration: the paradox of managing expectations and supporting professional identities', European Academy of Management (EURAM) Conference, Reykjavik, Iceland, 22nd June 2018

Nardon L, Zhang H, Szkudlarek B and Gulanowski D 2018 'Employment support and refugee workforce integration', 11th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS), Ottawa, Canada, 25th May 2018

Roy PA, Szkudlarek B, and Caprar DV 2020 'Refugees and Cross-Cultural Management Studies'. In B Szkdularek, L Romani, DV Caprar and J Osland (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of contemporary cross-cultural management (Ch. 30). Sage Publications.

Szkudlarek B 2019 'Engaging business in refugee employment: the employer's perspective.' Sydney, Australia: The University of Sydney Business School

Szkudlarek B, Nardon L, Osland J, Adler N and Lee ES 2019 'When context matters: What happens to international theory when researchers study refugees.' Academy of Management Perspectives. In-press.

Inclusive Workplaces

This video series showcases the issues refugees face when seeking employment and how employers can overcome biases in their recruitment processes. 

Learn about strategies for prioritising employee inclusion and well-being in organisations from researchers Professor Szkudlarek and Dr Lee as well as representatives from Amnesty International, IKEA and KPMG. 


Employment is Life

Ghalia's Story

No one ticks all the boxes

Criteria and Biases

Oasheen's Story

Zaki's Story

Barriers Must Be Broken

What's in a name?

Teaching resources

For teaching material on the Inclusive Employment video series, download the Inclusive Employment Educational Supplement (pdf, 132.3KB).

This research aligns with Sustainability Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economics Growth; Sustainability Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequality; and Sustainability Development Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals; and reflects the Business School's commitment to the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education.

Betina Szkudlarek
Professor Betina Szkudlarek
Academic profile

Overcoming the canvas ceiling

Professor Betina Szkudlarek speaks with Dr Eun Su (Jeannie) Lee and Selena Choo, founder of Humans Like Us, about refugee employment.

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