Humanitarian HR: Are refugees the answer to Australia's skills shortage?

There are so many qualified, experienced and talented refugees that just need a chance

Humanitarian HR: Are refugees the answer to Australia's skills shortage?

Embracing refugees into any community is a humanitarian task that any nation should welcome. Having to flee from your own country for a variety of reasons must be a horrifying experience. Millions of refugees relocate around the world to advanced nations like Australia desperately seeking a new life. What often gets overlooked in the refugee situation is the skillset that they bring.

There are so many qualified, experienced and talented refugees that just need a chance.

“There are many misconceptions regarding the recruitment of refugees,”  

Betina Szkudlarek, Associate Professor of Management, The University of Sydney Business School, told HRD. “Many employers wrongly assume that refugees might not have the legal rights to work in Australia. Others believe all refugees are unskilled and don't possess the qualifications needed in a given line of business. Yet, others presume that hiring refugees is too cumbersome. All of these misconceptions are wrong, and many employers who overcame them are now successfully recruiting refugees, advancing their business objectives while supporting this unique group of jobseekers.”

A University of Sydney report, ‘Engaging business in refugee employment’, revealed that more than 80% of asylum seekers and refugees remain unemployed 18 months arriving in Australia, due to difficulties with language; insufficient contacts with local networks and a lack of relevant Australian experience. The latter is a dichotomy that can’t be reversed until a refugee is given Australian work experience. The study found that employers who had hired refugees felt that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages.

“Refugee recruitment is critical for a number of reasons,” Szkudlarek added. “First, refugees bring to Australia a diverse set of skills and experiences. These could be of strategic importance to a wide range of sectors, especially those currently facing labour shortages.

“Second, refugees uprooted from their homes are driven to rebuild their lives in Australia. Access to education and meaningful employment are among the key factors for their integration into the receiving country. To this end, creating access to employment is beneficial for both the resettled refugees and the countries that host them.”

A lot of employers simply cite hiring refugees as falling into the ‘too hard basket’ when in fact that there are agencies out there that can help. These agencies can take all the hassle out of the necessary paperwork and checks so that the process is simple and ultimately, successful.

“Refugees are determined to rebuild their lives from scratch,” Szkudlarek added. “They want to be given an opportunity that is often withheld from them. To this end, if given a chance, they bring to the Australian economy skills, experience, determination and resilience. Recent modelling by Deloitte Access Economics uncovered that increasing Australia's humanitarian intake would boost the country's economy by almost $40 billion over the next 50 years.”

The Deloitte report, ‘Economic and social impact of increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake’ states that the economy could sustain an average of 35,000 additional jobs every for the next 50 years. It also states that Gross Domestic Product could be $4.9 billion greater annually up to 2067-68. The only question your business should be asking is what do I need to do to recruit a skilled refugee and enable them to proposer in this country?

Seven recommendations to engage business in refugee employment


1. Highlight and communicate benefits, success stories and 'best practices'

2. Rethink wage subsidies and increase funding for partnerships and sustainable refugee employment initiatives

3. Increase the use of social procurement frameworks

4. Add training, education and resources for employers

5. Support matching refugee skills/qualifications with industry needs

6. Engage communities and employers to provide mentorship and support

7. Encourage customised, collaborative community efforts

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