Creating a Path for Refugees

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
By Sharon Shinn
Photo by iStock/fizkes
At Deakin Business School in Australia, a specialized center helps highly skilled refugees obtain meaningful employment.

People from refugee backgrounds face a complex set of challenges. “Especially if they are on temporary or bridging visas, they find it extremely difficult to access higher education and obtain employment opportunities commensurate with their skills,” says Alex Newman, the head of the department of management and professor of management at Deakin Business School at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.

Further, employers are often reluctant to employ people from refugee backgrounds. According to Newman, evidence suggests that only 17 percent of refugees held paid jobs after they had been in Australia for 18 months. That’s why, in 2019, Deakin Business School launched the Centre for Refugee Employment, Advocacy, Training and Education (CREATE) to help people from refugee backgrounds rebuild their careers through access to education and meaningful employment.

The center was a natural fit for the business school. “CREATE resonates with one of the school’s four key strategic themes—business and society,” says Newman. The school not only provides administrative support for the center, but also funds a research fellowship and the salary for the director. The center’s programs and research efforts are supported by philanthropic donations and research grants.

Preparing Refugees for the Workforce

CREATE focuses on both educating refugees and helping them prepare for employment through a number of activities and resources:

Weekly career clinics. These live, interactive events are designed to help participants develop their résumés, explore career options, search for jobs, and learn how to network and interview. The refugees are matched with mentors who are expected to spend up to two hours a week doing one-on-one advising with one to two mentees over the eight-week period of the clinic. However, Newman notes, many mentors continue to support their mentees even after the clinics have ended.

Mentors include Deakin alumni and staff, the staff of industry partners, and people who have connected to the school on social media; all of them work as volunteers. They come from a diverse range of industries and experience, and the school matches them with refugees based on their personal backgrounds. About 10 percent of the mentors so far have been from Deakin Business School or other business schools.

The mentees are highly skilled individuals from refugee backgrounds who are looking for employment opportunities. They learn about the clinics in a variety of ways—often by searching online for career programs or by getting referrals from past participants or refugee support agencies. Most clinics have between 10 to 15 mentees and five to 10 mentors.

Mentors include Deakin alumni and staff and the staff of industry partners. Mentees are highly skilled individuals from refugee backgrounds who are looking for employment opportunities.

So far, because of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown in Australia, the events have taken place over Zoom. The online platform “allows us to deliver career support at a low cost and facilitates the involvement of industry mentors who have significant demands on their time,” says Newman. However, school officials hope to be able to add face-to-face sessions in the future.

While each clinic is designed to help prepare refugees for work, says Newman, the school emphasizes that it is not an employment agency. “We highlight that it is the mentee’s responsibility to take the initiative. The role of the mentor is not to find work for mentees, but to support them as they do so.”

Still, the mentor-mentee relationship has proved fruitful. “One of the clinic participants worked with a mentor from KPMG, who helped him practice interviewing skills and prepare materials he would need when applying for jobs,” says Newman. “He ended up securing a graduate trainee role at KPMG.”

The weekly clinics are run by Luke Macaulay, part of the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University. He is supported by Newman and Karen Dunwoodie, also on the Faculty of Business and Law. In addition, the program enlists the help of student interns, postgraduate students, and recent alumni, some of whom have taken on mentoring roles.

Among the students who participate are those who are refugees themselves. Says Newman, “The center actively involves these students as research assistants to ensure that refugees’ lived experiences are considered in the design of initiatives.”

A free online course. In this self-paced course, which takes about 20 hours to finish, participants complete an interactive workbook filled with exercises and links to videos. Participants learn to define their skill sets, brainstorm what kinds of jobs might match their skills and interests, identify their personal brands, determine how to search for jobs, improve their networking skills, create CVs, write cover letters, and prepare for job interviews.

“Currently, the workbook is only available in English as the school is targeting people with some proficiency in that language,” says Newman. “If participants don’t have access to internet-enabled devices, they usually can work with refugee sector partners who can source the proper technology.”

Other guides. The resource page also includes guidelines aimed at higher education institutions that want to support refugees and at organizations looking to employ such individuals. CREATE’s “Guide for Employers: Supporting Access to Employment for People from a Refugee or Asylum-Seeking Background” is currently used by more than 30 community-sector organizations; the guides are downloaded from the website about 200 times per month. All of these materials are provided free of charge.

The resource page also includes guidelines aimed at higher education institutions that want to support refugees and at organizations looking to employ such individuals.

Collaborations. Deakin CREATE works with partners such as the Refugee Council of Australia; vocational and higher education institutions; social enterprises such as Career Seekers; and nonprofits such as the Salvation Army, AMES, the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence, Diversitat, MercyCare, Catholic Care, and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. The team at CREATE is discussing how it might support the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees by providing greater access to training and education.

Research. CREATE fosters scholarship on issues related to refugee employment by publishing articles and organizing special issues for outlets that include the Journal of Vocational Behavior, Business and Society, and the Journal of International Management. Researchers also present on the topic at major academic conferences.

Assessing Impact

School officials have closely tracked the outcomes the program has had so far. “In the first two years, close to 300 people have undertaken our programs. After the first year, over 60 percent found work,” says Newman. “Through this employment support, Deakin CREATE has delivered significant economic and social benefits for the Australian government, taxpayers, and individuals from refugee backgrounds.”

CREATE also has been recognized by the Australian Financial Review’s Higher Education Awards, the PIEoneer International Education Awards, the Australian Business Dean’s Council Research Awards, and Emerald Publishing’s Real Impact Awards. In 2021, the center was highlighted as one of AACSB’s  Innovations That Inspire.

Additionally, says Newman, by working collaboratively with higher education institutions, “CREATE has inspired other universities to provide scholarships for refugees, and a number of researchers from other Australian business schools have served as mentors at our graduate career clinic.”

And more opportunities for impact lie ahead. “We intend to continue Deakin CREATE’s work for the foreseeable future,” says Newman. “We are looking for long-term philanthropic funding to ensure the sustainability of the center and allow us to expand our programs.”

Sharon Shinn
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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