A groundbreaking report on barriers to refugee employment has called on the government to consider measures including employer education programs as ways of encouraging firms to hire and retain humanitarian migrants.
More than 80 percent of asylum seekers and refugees remain unemployed 18 months after arriving in Australia, largely because they lack language skills, local networks and relevant Australian experience.
The report, titled 'Engaging business in refugee employment' (pdf, 2.4MB), was authored by the University of Sydney Business School Associate Professor Betina Szkudlarek in close collaboration with the Centre for Policy Development, and with the assistance of a team of volunteers from Boston Consulting Group.
"Our report is based on a study which looked at the perceptions of employers who have and those who have not employed refugees," said Dr Szkudlarek. "The aim was to gain insight into employers' perceptions, misconceptions and experiences."
The study found employers who had hired refugees felt that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages.
"These benefits were the ability that refugees have to serve with cultural sensitivity a diverse customer base, their work ethic and commitment, international experience as well as diversity of views and expertise they brought to the workplace," said Dr Szkudlarek.
Many stressed that refugees' productivity was higher than that of the local workforce.
The report includes seven broad recommendations aimed at encouraging the employment and retention of refugees.
"There is 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 Annabel Brown, CPD's Program Director.
The report indicates that issues such as "visa status, work rights, uncertainty about the duration of stay and absenteeism were rarely a concern among employers who had employed refugees and who had sought to hire refugees."
"Many employers had simply not thought of turning to the refugee community in search of recruits," Dr Szkudlarek said.
Joseph Raheb, who was involved in an intern program for refugees at Telstra, says he found "a greater amount of lateral thinking amongst participants which propelled results in new markets."
"I would definitely recommend employing refugees from the many organisations that offer employment services in this field," said Mr Raheb, who now works with Salesforce. "It was personally rewarding to see our intake of refugees flourish."
Associate Professor Betina Szkudlarek's research shows employers are eager to work with refugees, but many don't know where to begin. Not-for-profits and social enterprises can help bridge the gap.
CareerSeekers is a not-for-profit employment organisation that has placed more than 650 refugees in meaningful positions since 2016.
"CareerSeekers supports corporate Australia’s focus on cultural diversity while tackling the issue of underemployment of asylum seekers and refugees," said 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," said Mr Baynard-Smith. "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."
While CareerSeekers is largely funded by corporate sponsorship, the 'Engaging business in refugee employment' report recommends that government provides more financial support for social enterprises and NGOs.
It also recommends the identification of refugees in procurement programs as well as the facilitation of industry relevant interaction between Australian employers and refugee jobseekers through on-the-job training, mentoring, networking opportunities and other forms of professional support.
"Ultimately, the successful hiring and retention of refugees requires a long-term, holistic approach, involving management, the government and the community," concluded Dr Szkudlarek.
Read the report: 'Engaging business in refugee employment' (pdf, 2.4MB)