Why businesses are a refuge for asylum seekers and refugees

As we stop and reflect this World Refugee Day (and Refugee Week in Australia; 19 June – 25 June) it is important to consider the role of the corporate sector in creating inclusive opportunities for welcoming and settling refugees.

It is also important to remember – no one chooses to be a refugee. No one chooses to have their lives thrown into upheaval and be forced to flee and start again from scratch. If there is one empathetic lesson we can all take away from COVID it is this; no one chooses crisis. But from crisis, resilience emerges for many, especially our refugees.

For my organisation Community Corporate, an awarding-winning social enterprise specialising in refugee employment, our mission is to unleash refugee talent and showcase this untapped pool of people at a time when skill shortages remain a key concern for most employers.

We do not think that the survey data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, (which suggests only 6% of refugees find work within six months of arrival, growing only to 25% of refugees in employment after 2 years) is acceptable at all.  Neither do our corporate partners.

Interestingly we spend time with new employers busting common myths: can refugees speak English? Do we have to sponsor their visa? Do these employees have work rights?

Here are the answers to these common questions:

For most refugees, they have dedicated the time to gain English language skills, and while this of course varies, confidence is often the real barrier, not comprehension. Also, refugees who arrive in Australia on a humanitarian refugee visa have permanent residence so hiring a refugee is like hiring any other Australian – there are no hidden costs.

The real barriers for refugees and asylum seekers entering the workforce is a lack of local work experience and unconscious bias in the recruitment process. It is in these areas where we have partnered with companies across Australia such as Woolworths, Accor, IKEA and OTR, who have all challenged their conventional recruitment pathways and co-designed competency-based assessments with us to give refugees a chance to prove their skills and capabilities on the job, gain local work experience and demonstrate their desire and attitude for work.

Something we highlight is how much our refugees really want to work. This is reflected in the fact that refugee hiring through this employer-led model exceeds 94% nationally. The return on investment is clear, with our results further demonstrating an average of 90% retention rates in work after 12 months.

The appetite and appreciation for the abundance of offshore skills and experience is now gaining even more momentum, and employers need to ask: how important is a piece of paper really? As we all acknowledge, the digital economy is key to Australia’s economic future and recovery from COVID-19, with an estimated 250,000 new jobs to be created by digitalization by 2025, our employer partners are opening alternative pathways for refugees to gain access into this industry through our new Refugee Digital Cadetship program.

In partnership with ServiceNow, Accenture, Woolworths and many others, we have designed a program that will build on the overseas qualifications, experience and skills of refugees to help meet the Australian skills shortage in IT.

The key to all of this is a pull, not push approach. It should not just be about filling quotas to meet ESG reporting requirements, but about genuine commitment to the reciprocal dividend that hiring refugees creates by transformational change in communities, and building loyal, capable employees who embody diversity and inclusion.

So, this refugee week, some questions for corporates to consider are: are you struggling to find talent? Have you considered hiring a refugee?  What would it cost you really to start a conversation with us about opening the doors to opportunity for our newest Australians, so they can regain their dignity through work? What have you got to lose? And what are the potential gains?

Ask our corporate partners any of these questions and I’m sure they’ll tell you: refugees are Australia’s best kept secret – and they just may be the solution to meeting your future workforce needs so all of us can thrive!

Carmen Garcia is the CEO of Community Corporate. 

Community Corporate | Award-winning diversity and inclusion