Creating pathways to employment is a crucial step in the process of resettling newly arrived refugees.

Download the Employers’ guide

How to make it work

Every organisation that has committed to hiring refugees has needed to make an initial investment to manage the change required. However, the return on investment in terms of staff retention, productivity and positive business outcomes, is real and measurable.

By adapting your recruitment practices, you have the opportunity to tap into a pool of motivated workers, eager to build a new life for themselves and their families.

Models to consider

To give refugees an equal opportunity to be considered for entry into your workforce, think about what kinds of opportunities your workplace can offer. There will be an element of organisational change, so plan how to manage it.

Work experience (paid or unpaid)

This might suit you if:

  • you want to give refugees a chance at gaining Australian work experience, to learn about local work culture and your industry, develop a network, and adjust to working life
  • you already run work experience programs
  • you are a small to medium business with limited capacity to commit resources to making more substantial changes to your recruitment practices
Training opportunities / temporary work placements

This might suit you if:

  • you want to give refugees a pathway to a permanent job (within your organisation or somewhere else) by giving them an opportunity to first demonstrate their abilities on the job
  • you already run traineeships, apprenticeships or internships
  • you are a medium to large organisation with sufficient ongoing turnover of staff to be able to place a candidate against a real position in your head count
Change, adapt or supplement your recruitment practices to be more inclusive of refugees

This might suit you if:

  • you are looking for a reliable ongoing source of labour, skills or specialised industry talent
  • you want to employ people living and receiving services in your local community (or the local community of your customer-facing offices/branches)

Some changes you could make:

  • Educate hiring managers of the options they have of recruiting through a pathway that proactively sources labour from a pool of refugee candidates
  • Establish a specialised recruitment program to proactively find refugee job seekers and support them to apply

How you can level the playing field

Currently, employers are missing out because a refugee candidate who may be the best person for a job, isn’t able to present themselves in a competitive way.

Like many newcomers, refugees experience barriers to fully participating in the labour market, and employers can take steps to level the playing field.

Lack of Australian work experience
  • Consider whether gaps in experience can be managed.
  • Look for what the candidate’s overseas work experience and qualifications show about their capabilities, transferable skills, and potential.
  • In your recruitment process, focus on assessing someone’s behaviour, attributes and potential to do the job.
  • Identify jobs which could be suitable for a person with certain personal qualities, such as a growth mindset, adaptability, a positive attitude, resilience, a willingness to learn, and having a genuine interest in working in your industry.
  • Don’t reject a person for an entry level job solely because they appear ‘overqualified’. They may have applied for the job because they have been rejected for more senior roles for not having Australian work experience.
  • Offer refugees the opportunity to work for a probationary period and evaluate them on their ability to do the actual job, not their ability to succeed in a recruitment process.
  • Manage expectations about the nature of the work. Consider providing a workplace tour as part of the recruitment process, to ensure each applicant understands what the job entails.
Having overseas tertiary and trade qualifications recognised is cumbersome and costly
  • Consider what the candidate’s overseas qualification shows about their knowledge, expertise and interest in your industry.
  • Offer refugees the opportunity to gain work experience in your industry as a stepping stone towards re-qualifying in their field of expertise.
  • Test for any technical skills that are a pre-requisite for doing the job (for example, numeracy, computer skills, experience operating heavy machinery, business level written English).
English proficiency
  • Identify job vacancies where skills can be taught, and safe practices can be communicated to people with lower levels of English proficiency, for example, via interpreters or translated information.
  • Talking about their personal qualities may require a higher the level of English than that required to perform the role itself – consider engaging an interpreter if there are language barriers during the evaluation process.
  • Offer opportunities to learn and practice English in the workplace, with vocabulary relevant to your industry.
The way people look for, and apply for, a job, is unfamiliar
  • Work with specialised organisations that can act as a broker.
  • Use a specialist refugee employment service to pre-screen and provide a short-list of candidates.
  • Help candidates learn, prepare and practice their interview skills. Work through social behavioural cues, such as eye contact and shaking hands.
Unconscious bias of recruiters
  • Give recruiters the tools to recognise and counter their own unconscious bias.
  • Ensure recruitment procedures encourage diversity of thought when hiring decisions are made.
  • Educate interviewers to be aware of their unconscious biases and give them tools and information to overcome these (for example, have more diversity on interview panels).

What to keep in mind

Leadership – Harness support and energy from leadership and champions within your organisation.

Business case – Use data about your organisation and the market it serves to support your proposal:

  • Demographic data about the community the business serves: languages spoken, birthplaces, cultural backgrounds. The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides data by geographic location.
  • Workforce-related data to demonstrate to what extent your current workforce demographically reflects your customers.
  • Market-related data about your customers’ values, needs and expectations to identify opportunities for improving your organisation’s reputation. Draw on examples of others other organisations successfully hiring refugees and any benefits they’ve reported.
  • Government policy-related data to demonstrate social inclusion indicators and potential wage subsidies:
    • Wage subsidies are available from the Commonwealth government for employing people receiving income support, while meeting certain eligibility requirements. Wage subsidies are also available for hiring apprentices and trainee workers.

Resourcing – Ensure sufficient resources – don’t do it by half. Seek expert help and support. Decide if you need to bring expertise from outside your organisation.

Planning – Figure out at the beginning the practical logistics of how your existing HR systems can be adapted.

Vetting – Conduct standard risk assessments and background checks, if needed for employment:

  • Talk to the job applicant about any risks that contacting organisations in their home country may pose for their safety or the safety of family members who remain in that country.
  • The Commonwealth Government conducts an international police check as part of a person’s visa application, but you may need to organise a background check for the time the person has lived in Australia.

Check working rights and visa conditions:

  • Refugees generally have the right to work and study in Australia. The exception is that some people who have been found to be refugees, but who have spent time detained in offshore processing facilities, may not.
  • You can verify work rights and visa conditions using the free Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service. The details of a person’s passport or ‘immicard’ – a identification card issued to people seeking asylum – are needed to request a VEVO check.

Promote success– Start with a pilot that maximises the chances of success. Success builds on success, but only if others in your organisation know about it, so promote and celebrate it:

  • Embed personal commitment of senior leaders by arranging for them to personally meet and hear the stories of successful refugee recruits willing to share their experiences.
  • Collect data on progress and achievements of refugee employees, case studies and testimonials, conversion outcomes (to permanent employment if the employee was hired temporarily), and qualitative feedback about the program.
  • Have successful refugee employees share their stories, and report data showing positive outcomes, to demonstrate the value and benefit of having refugees in the workforce.
  • Use your volunteer network, and people who have worked successfully alongside refugee colleagues and personally benefited from this experience, to champion the cause.

For information on how to start, enlisting community partners, and maintaining support, download the Australian Employers’ Guide to Hiring Refugees.