Starting a new life, in a new country is a challenge for anyone. 

This is especially so for those who have experienced forced migration and who have arrived in Australia as part of our country’s humanitarian program - and before COVID-19 caused borders to close, we were expected to welcome 18,750 new Australians in the last financial year. 

Each new arrival has their own unique story and set of challenges to overcome as they begin their settlement journey.

PageGroup has been working with the CareerSeekers New Australian Internship Program for the past two years, which supports Australia’s humanitarian entrants into professional careers.

Without appropriate interventions, data has shown that only 17% of humanitarian migrants are in paid work after being in Australia for 18 months. When further analysed, it found that the employment tends to be low-skilled and temporary in nature – even when the individual completed tertiary education in their country of origin.

As a way to help improve these statistics, PageGroup recently delivered a webinar on career advice to 100 of these students and graduates to prepare them for internships and grad placements.

The webinar examined how to get started, develop a cover letter, common resume mistakes, key interview techniques and how to tackle video interviews.

Carolyn Sykes, Program Director at CareerSeekers New Australian Internship Program said the participating students asked various questions including how interviewers evaluate interview performance and what to do when you need a moment to think of a response.

“The webinar was a great success and has helped prepare the CareerSeekers students for their upcoming interviews, particularly ahead of their upcoming internships over their summer university break,” Sykes said.

“The continued partnership with PageGroup supports the program delivered by CareerSeekers, which ultimately helps participants to establish, or in the case of the mid-career stream, recommence their professional career in Australia.”

Ross McLelland, Associate Director, Finance, at Michael Page said refugees and asylum seekers are amongst the most motivated job seekers around.

“They have a huge desire to give back to the country that has provided them safety and a new beginning, and they have a lot to offer. But learning how to adapt to the local job market is a major obstacle for them,” McLelland revealed.

“We believe we can make a difference and increase their chances of success through our expertise, coaching, training and guidance.”

Barbara Schless, Manager, Supply Chain & Logistics at Michael Page added: “It was great to see the high level of engagement from the students and their preparation.”

How businesses can improve their hiring processes to get a competitive edge

According to Sykes, graduates from the program are almost always perceived by recruiters to have a higher risk profile than other applicants, amid a very competitive graduate employment market. 

“Whilst diversity is a focus of many employers, at a graduate level this remains as ‘diversity, so long as it meets existing recruitment standards’,” Sykes said, adding that businesses must think about how their recruitment process for graduates might be unintentionally excluding the recruitment of refugees.

“And if you only hire one type of person, you only get one way of thinking. Yet companies are always on the lookout for that competitive edge, which could be as simple as hiring someone who has a different perspective.”

Sykes also recommended businesses to consider whether their hiring processes uses additional information to weigh applications.

“If the system itself cannot change, how can you enable refugee students to strengthen their applications? You might like to partner with CareerSeekers, for example, and help students from a refugee background gain valuable relevant work experience whilst they are still studying,” she noted.

“Companies need to look at how they manage this systemic bias, otherwise they will continue to hire the lowest risk applicants, who are rarely from a refugee background. The result is companies missing out on applicants who have already demonstrated adaptability and resilience from a young age – key attributes companies need to look for in these rapidly changing times.”

Finally, intersectionality was crucial when it came to diversity, as underrepresentation might be common but the reasons for such are not the same, Sykes said.

RELATED: Why hiring people seeking asylum makes good business sense

Key career barriers for refugee and asylum seeker students and graduates

  • Lack of a professional network, such as older or experienced family members who can guide them through process or put in a good word
  • Lack of familiarity with the application process – CV preparation, cover letter, online assessments, virtual interviews
  • Refugee students are often under the impression that applying for graduate roles commences when you are finishing or have finished university. In reality, it starts in high school when students first start their work experience or attend study camps et cetera
  • Lack of social capital to successfully navigate the transition from university to employment

Chris Clarke, Associate Director, Sales, at Michael Page said the opportunity to deliver the session with CareerSeekers was a strong example of living out PageGroup’s purpose of changing lives to help people reach their potential.

Georgina O’Brien, Associate Director, Manufacturing at Michael Page concluded: “It was a great way to share what we do best on a daily basis with individuals who really value our advice on applying for a job.”

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