Ford Motors Hatif Karimi: From Refugee to Company Engineer and Mentor

When Hatif Karimi tunes into our Zoom call from his Melbourne office, it is immediately clear that he has taken the time to prepare. Sharply suited and with a copy of our emails on hand, Hatif answers each question slowly and thoughtfully, giving each word the careful attention of someone who has learned English later in life.


At 25, Hatif is a Design and Release Engineer with Ford Motor Company and volunteers his spare time as a mentor with the Crescent Champions Club. Hatif’s achievements are even more remarkable when you consider that he arrived in Australia just ten years ago as a refugee from Afghanistan, with little English and no family.


“I came to Australia by boat and then I spent about six months in a detention centre,” he explains. “I was an unaccompanied minor, I was 15 years old, and I had no family with me. So I was by myself.”


“After six months in a detention centre, I was granted a visa. I started high school in Year 10 and my English wasn’t that good. I was struggling with my English, and I did Year 11 and Year 12, then I studied industrial engineering, majoring in robotics engineering, at university.”


High school and university can be challenging at the best of times. With the added pressures of forced relocation and having to take his classes in a foreign language, there must have been times when the barriers felt overwhelming.


“I mean, it is hard for asylum seekers with no English to study here in English,” Hatif acknowledges. “It’s very, very hard. But it’s not impossible.”


When asked if there is a particular skill or art that he thinks every young person should have, Hatif proposes two: First and most important, he says, is problem solving. “For instance, I don’t have anything to do until a problem comes to me. I always have to find solutions. If there is no problem, there is no job for me.”


The second skill he urges young people to nurture is communication. “If you’re skilled but you can’t represent yourself and your skills positively and effectively, no one will understand you and hire you.”


On the general direction of Australian society, he is overwhelmingly positive. “I think multiculturalism and diversity is growing,” he says, “and leadership opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds are growing along with that. It’s good for Australia, it is enhancing and strengthening Australia economically and culturally.”


He politely declines to comment on whether there are any recent trends that concern him, explaining that he does not feel confident discussing the subject with authority. And yet a lack of confidence does not appear to be a problem for him. He tells us he hasn’t always been so self-assured.


“When I was in high school and university, it was really hard for me to talk to others around me; to talk to my colleagues, to talk to other students…. I was thinking that I might not be able to hold a conversation with them because my English was not that good. But afterwards, when I graduated from university and I got this job, I had no choice but to communicate with people, because I was working in a team.”


“And then I realised that the problem is not my English, the problem is my confidence. My English is good enough to talk to others, but I didn’t have the confidence. And doing that, I think I lost a lot of opportunities during university. I could have achieved more.”


While Hatif’s journey can hardly be called an underachievement, it is nonetheless intriguing to wonder where he might be today had he not faced the challenges he did. Indeed, offering a helping hand to those walking a similar path and helping to unlock their potential is what motivated him to become a mentor.


“When I meet my mentees…most of those young refugees are generous, hardworking, and talented people. They just need a little bit of support to get a role or a position to show themselves.”

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