Are Australia's recruitment processes discriminatory?

Research identifies four employment barriers holding back skilled migrants

Are Australia's recruitment processes discriminatory?

Human resources professionals, industry, and the government are being urged to foster fairer recruitment practices for skilled migrants following new research that identified barriers that hold them back.

The research, titled Diversity Climate: discrimination against skilled migrants in recruitment, found that there are barriers in the application process that leave migrants in Australia in jobs below their skill levels. These barriers include:

  • Recruiters setting unfair requirements for local work experience
  • Recruiters only recognising local certificates or qualifications
  • Applicants not understanding the application requirements in Australia (such as cover letters and addressing key selection criteria)
  • Bias toward applicants from Western countries with less experience, over people from Asian non-English-speaking countries

June Tran, a lecturer with the RMIT University, said these barriers to employment impact Australia as it leaves unfilled jobs still vacant.

"Instead, we have an army of overqualified delivery and taxi drivers," Tran said in a statement. "Government, industry, and HR need to communicate about fairer recruitment practices for skilled migrants."

Discrimination in recruitment

The research comes amid "consistently disappointing employment outcomes" for skilled migrants during their first five years in Australia, according to Tran, who cited Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

"That is the time they must accept being underemployed or re-educated, just to accumulate the local qualifications and work experience to satisfy recruiters," she said.

These outcomes happen despite getting an approved visa, residency, and rich overseas work experience to fill advertised roles.

"It then begs the question, are Australia's recruitment processes discriminatory?" Tran said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said acts of discrimination based on nationality or citizenship are not prohibited by the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA).

"However, it can be against the law for an employer to not employ someone or offer them employment opportunities because of their immigrant status," the AHRC said on its website. "This does not mean that an employer has to employ someone who does not have a valid work visa."

Preventing discrimination

To ensure a more inclusive workplace climate, the research urged organisation to develop a "robust measure of inclusion in recruitment."

"Organisations need to establish a clear recruitment policy to balance the economic benefits candidates can bring to the organisations soon after joining and the long-term benefit of a diverse workforce," the research said. "Resources need to be spared to truly embrace diversity in organisation."

Hiring managers also need to be trained to understand the value of a diverse workforce and to be more open to differences in recruitment, according to the research.

"Diversity-specific programs with a clear aim to improve outcomes for marginalised group members need to be embraced together with clear and visible efforts from the organisation and its senior leadership to promote outcomes reflective of fairness and reduced discrimination in recruitment," the research said.

The government could also assist migrant workers in gaining local work experience through schemes that provide incentives or financial support to employers providing apprenticeships for migrants and other minority worker groups.

This could help skilled migrants learn the "numerous cultural nuances and 'languages,' both formal and informal, used in workplaces," according to the research.

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