A new study from the University of Sydney Business School in partnership with Crescent Foundation has highlighted that good intentions alone are not enough to succeed in refugee employment. While Australian businesses are keen to employ refugees, they require support and guidance to help them navigate the complexities involved in the recruitment process. The researchers worked with 35 employers with little to no experience hiring refugees, examining the role of various forms of incentives and support mechanisms available to them, and actions that could encourage employers to hire from this group of job candidates.
The study found that lack of time was a key issue, with most employers not finding any capacity to engage with activities beyond business as usual. While there are grants and subsidies available to employers keen to work with refugees, few interviewees dedicated any time to explore those. Furthermore, the funding structure rewards service providers and settlement agencies for helping refugees gain employment but does not recognise the importance of the work that goes into training a candidate to become job-ready.
Lead author Professor Betina Szkudlarek said improving the hiring and retention of refugees would have significant financial and social benefits. “Each year Australia welcomes thousands of refugees, most of whom find it difficult to obtain work befitting their experience and expertise. They want to work, and employers say they are willing to hire them, but our research found a substantial gap between employer intentions and actions. There is an opportunity for employers to play a vital role in improving employment outcomes of people from a refugee background, while expanding their talent pool, and an opportunity for government to remove some of the more significant barriers."
Crescent Foundation, Managing Director, Professor Talal Yassine OAM said, "Education and awareness are critical in helping employers understand the skills and potential that refugees bring to the table, and in breaking down the barriers to their employment. Australian organisations need to revise recruitment processes and create inclusive guidelines to ensure that refugees and other diverse candidates are not overlooked for job opportunities."
The study also highlighted that collaboration between educational institutions, employers, and service providers can help create a pipeline of skilled refugee candidates and ease their entry into certain industries. Promoting diversity and supporting social enterprises can help address the mismatch in labour supply and demand, and provide opportunities for underrepresented job seekers, including refugees.
The research team said there is an opportunity for the government to develop a country-wide standard for inclusive recruitment, which would help employers. There is also an opportunity for greater use of procurement targets across industries and states. Previous research by Professor Szkudlarek showed that employers who hired refugees were subsequently keen to hire more people from a refugee background. "This is a clear indication that hiring refugees is good for business as much as it is good for disadvantaged jobseekers who are eager to rebuild their lives in Australia," she said.
While there are many challenges to refugee employment, the benefits to both employers and job seekers are significant. By collaborating with educational institutions, service providers and social enterprises, and with the support of the government, Australian businesses can tap into a skilled and diverse talent pool while making a meaningful contribution to society.