By Rochelle Stewart-Allen, New Zealand Senior Manager

“It’s high time we started welcoming former refugees into our New Zealand workplaces and recognise they bring entrepreneurial skills, diverse language expertise and a global perspective to our organisations.”
– Rochelle Stewart-Allen, NZ Manager, HOST International

HOST International NZ is now actively working with New Zealand employers to begin to reduce employment barriers for former refugees. With 30 per cent of refugees arriving in NZ with professional skills and qualifications and many more going on to obtain NZ qualifications, we are missing out on a skilled workforce that could fill some of our vital skill shortages.

The business case for employing former refugees

In August 2018, HOST International welcomed British economist, Philippe Legrain, to New Zealand to run a series of public and private events to educate employers and extend public understanding about the economic benefits of employing former refugees.

Philippe discussed the compelling business case for hiring former refugees. They are hard-working, highly motivated, heterogeneous (diverse) employees with the high skills or helpful characteristics New Zealand businesses need – and that you can hold on to.

Reducing employment barriers

HOST International NZ is working to significantly reduce the employment barriers that exist for former refugees in NZ through development of a programme of education and connection. This includes bridging the divide that currently exists between employers and resettled community members seeking work opportunities.

The main barriers NZ employers experience in employing former refugees are recognising their qualifications, their lack of NZ experience and their level of English.

In most roles, it’s relatively easy to skill match and determine a potential employee’s expertise. After all, not many new employees arrive with the perfect mix of skills. More significant is an employee’s ability to adapt and learn on the job. This level of adaptability is a core skill former refugees possess purely through having successfully made it through the refugee journey itself.

 

“The biggest hurdle we’ve seen in New Zealand: there’s an obsession with local work experience, with small businesses thinking they can’t afford to take on someone who’s a ‘risky quantity’. It should not be difficult to find jobs for a thousand people a year. – Philippe Legrain, British Economist & Writer

 

Lacking in NZ experience can easily be rectified by internships, the 90-day trial period, and mentoring on the job. Stay posted for HOST International NZ’s new internship programme launching in 2019.

English competency is a hotly debated topic amongst many NZ employers. A number of former refugees arrive with very strong English competency. For others, immersion on the job is the quickest way to learn. Employers can also commit to providing English classes in the workplace or allowing employees to continue their language learning with an external provider.

Alongside this barriers, HOST International NZ has also identified a number of additional barriers which need to be resolved.

There is a lack of knowledge and understanding by NZ employers about the refugee and resettlement process[1]. Employers are unaware that the resettled talent pool exists and that employers could be drawing on qualified and skilled candidates[2] to fill their skill shortages or training people ready to begin new careers.

For those employers ready to consider diverse candidates, they do not know how and where to recruit suitable candidates from a refugee background. HOST International NZ is currently working in Auckland with the Aotearoa Resettled Community Coalition and in Wellington with ChangeMakers Resettled Forum to bridge this gap. HOST’s overarching goal is to expand these practices across NZ.

There can be concern from employers these people are so culturally ‘different’ they will struggle to suit the NZ workplace culture. Of course the reality is quite different. The refugee process itself is a demonstration that these people are extremely resilient, adaptable and entrepreneurial. These skills can certainly be applied to the NZ workplace.

Internships, work experience programmes and mentoring can help former refugees transition into the NZ workforce. Language classes can also assist, alongside education around how NZ workplaces operate in terms of culture, working with managers and internal/external colleagues.

A much broader and more inclusive recruitment process is also required so that different communication styles don’t disadvantage diverse candidates.

Hiring former refugees can require an upfront cost during the initial appointment and settling in process, however these costs have been seen to produce a positive return within the first 12 months of employment.

“If I had a wishlist, at the top of it would be the hope that countries adopt refugees in the same way that they adopt international talents. Fundamentally, we are no different to those who have more means to come into this country, to fill jobs, to fill up the talent pool that is much needed to support economic growth and social advancements. – Mitchell Pham, Co-founder & Director of Augen Software & former refugee

 

[1] Former refugees in NZ gain Permanent Residency on arrival and have full work-rights here.

[2] Approximately 30% arrive with professional qualifications and more go on to study and graduate at a tertiary level in NZ.