Connecting Skills

Background: Barriers to employment

So many times, we have heard about the barriers faced by first and second generation migrants and refugees attempting to gain employment in the Australian workplace. These individuals find it particularly difficult to gain long-term employment in industries relevant to their skills, qualifications and experience due to the issues of discrimination in the workplace, the recognition of overseas qualifications by Australian employers and the need for Australian work experience.

Research has revealed that Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) communities in Australia have poorer employment outcomes than either the native-born or those who originate from other English-speaking countries. Despite the existence of legislation, varying levels of discrimination exist for CaLD people either seeking work or who are currently employed in the Australian workplace.

It is fairly key question to identify disadvantages faced by CaLD people. There has been a fair bit of research on that, and one of the things as an Australian that disturbs us about it is that, even once you control for education, you control for qualifications, you control for everything, there is still disadvantage left. That can only be discrimination. To us, in our society, we have got terrific legal institutions and laws available to oppose discrimination but the reality is that among employers, and in society generally, there is still discrimination.

In quantitative terms, the 2014 Scanlon report on social cohesion found that 18 per cent of participants surveyed had experienced some form of discrimination because of their skin colour, ethnic origin or religion, an increase from twelve per cent in 2012 but slightly decrease from nineteen per cent in 2013.

Research has shown that people with a name that does not sound Anglo-Saxon are less likely to progress through the preliminary stages of a job application process, compared to those with an Anglo-Saxon name.

Case Study of Mr David Kuel further shows us the problem of discrimination by employers against CaLD job seekers.

“David Kuel is a Sudanese humanitarian entrant currently living Tasmania. Upon his arrival to Australia in 1999, Mr Kuel decided to complement his experience as a social worker by undertaking study at an Australian university. During this time Mr Kuel worked as a university mentor for five years, a community volunteer, founded a multicultural youth group, and was awarded Young Citizen of the Year in 2004.

Having successfully completed two degrees and a college certificate, Mr Kuel thought that his qualifications and experience in community volunteering would greatly enhance his employment opportunities in Tasmania. However, Mr Kuel has found it particularly difficult to get a job relevant to his qualifications and experience in Tasmania. Mr Kuel’s ability to speak three different languages and engage with local migrant communities has also had little effect on his employment outcomes.

Mr Kuel believes that being identified as a refugee or humanitarian entrant can immediately lead to a negative perception of the individual’s skills. Based on his experiences, Mr Kuel is of the opinion that there is a high level of institutional racism that does not allow everybody equal access to employment in the Australian workplace.”

So Change has identified two major barriers to employment for migrants and refuge in Australia. i.e Language and Australian work Experience.

Language barriers

A CaLD individual’s proficiency in English can be a significant barrier in their attempts to find employment relevant to their skills. This stems from the lack of available opportunities for CaLD individuals to develop their language skills relevant to the workplace. Also, in some instances, employers may be unaccepting of foreign accents regardless of an individual’s English proficiency.

The South Australian Department of Trade and Economic Development’s (DTED) research has indicated that differences exist between migrants from English and non-English speaking backgrounds with respect to their employment level achieved. That is, the higher the proficiency of English, the greater the likelihood that the migrant’s skills will be effectively utilised in the local labour market.

English continues to remain a barrier to employment partly due to the lack of specific English courses designed to meet needs in areas such as medicine, engineering and science. The lack of industry-specific, English vocabulary training was a common concern expressed in the evidence received.

Australian work experience

As identified by the Adult Migrant English Service (AMES), Australian work experience is important because it:

  • provides newly arrived job seekers with experience to strengthen their job applications and satisfy an employer’s preference for workers with Australian work experience;
  • educates job seekers on the Australian workplace; and
  • gives employers the opportunity to assess the capabilities of job seekers through direct observation

However, we have heard from a range of first generation migrants and refugees who have found great difficulty in finding work in Australia due to their lack of local work experience. In some cases, skilled migrants or refugees who hold a qualification/s from an overseas university find themselves in low skilled jobs in industries not relevant to their acquired skill set on the basis that they do not possess relevant Australian work experience.

The AHRC observed that Australian employers usually require relevant work experience before hiring a prospective candidate. The problem for CaLD individuals is the difficulty in finding first-hand work experience and knowledge of the industry when they do not have any local Australian work experience to begin with.

Connecting Skills

Connecting Skills is the project of So Change Inc. designed to enhance the employment outcomes of migrants and refugees living in Australia. Project aim is to overcome the common barriers to employment faced by migrants and refugees through schemes like advisory services, information sessions, short courses and work placements program. Project will run the awareness campaign in public, and especially employers that the perspective of the immigrant being able to achieve employment commensurate to one’s qualifications and expectations is crucial for the feeling of inclusion and belonging to the Australian society. Connecting Skills in partnership with Federal and state governments, business and not for profit organizations will also arrange three months corporate work experience for the qualified CaLD people.

The vision of Connecting Skills project is to open up the best of what Australian government and businesses has to offer to CaLD community, to provide people with an employment opportunity which sits within their field of training to prepare them, and to give them a real leg in and some deep understanding of the Australian world of work, and for them to do a real job while they are doing it.

Project aims is to provide participants with an intensive program of learning and workplace experiences within the corporate environment, so that participants are more likely and more ready to access opportunities in the broader Australian employment market.

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