Refugees work! With industry, not institutions

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Panel at Refugee Week event: Moderator Lisa Annese at podium with Hooman Mihanzadeh,  Jo Tabit & Michael Combs on stools to her left.

During our recent Building Cultural Capability event, a powerful anecdote gave everyone pause.

It was about an Australian CEO, who had just signed a multi-billion dollar engineering deal.

He reflected on the nostalgic fact that one of his clients was his former university, but that the institution had changed its name. 

The point of the story slowly landed: if you flipped the world’s fortunes and dropped that resourceful, money-spinning individual into Syria or Iraq, then told him to prove his qualifications from an entity that no longer exists, or else he couldn’t work … well. The result would be lost opportunity.

This is exactly what we have in Australia, where up to 30 per cent of our refugee intake comes from highly-skilled professionals who fail to get their training and certification recognised.

People vs institutions

This issue is complex, but the discussion going forward should be about this: the role of industry in the employment of asylum seekers and refugees, versus the role of institutions.

Michael Combs, who is CEO of CareerSeekers and was a panelist at the event, alongside the Brotherhood of St Laurence, explains: “Traditionally, we turn to an institution – universities, CPAs – and we say, ‘Please verify this person has a qualification.’

“There is a different way to achieve the same thing faster, better and without the bureaucracy that sometimes comes with institutions. And that is industry.

“Debits and credits are the same in Iran and Syria as they are in Australia. So do we need an engineer that signs off on construction documents, or do we have hundreds of engineers at different levels on a project, and can we put someone in and test where they fit in that spectrum?”

The answer from those who attended was a resounding yes.

We can think bigger and smarter on this issue, and industry can lead the way.

DCA members can access the recording and transcript from the event.

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