When one of your Uber drivers has a master’s degree in subsea engineering, the other is a senior chemistry lecturer, and your drinks waiter is a qualified accountant with 10 years experience, what is going on? Why are their skills being so underused and how can the WA economy and community realise this potential?
As an organisation assisting more than 1500 jobseekers from refugee, migrant and asylum-seeker backgrounds, MercyCare asks these questions every day. We ask them particularly when we hear talk of an imminent skills shortage, or when employers find it difficult to attract suitably qualified applicants with a long-term commitment. And we ask them again — when the spotlight is on the value of refugee skills as it is now in Refugee Week.
We know our jobseekers, all with full work rights, have an enormous range of skills, are highly motivated to build a career with one organisation, are brimming with new ideas, perspectives and extra talents, such as multiple languages, and have a demonstrated level of resilience. They are valuable potential employees who embody the real purpose of diversity policies and have evidence-based benefits — increased innovation and creativity, market share, improved financial performance and brand reputation. I know, because I employ team members from this group.
Last year, Deloitte Access Economics produced a comprehensive research report for the Queensland Department of Multicultural Affairs quantifying the costs and benefits of making the most of the skills and experience of migrants and refugees, or not. They found 49 in 100 skilled migrants were not using their skills or experience. Twenty-seven per cent couldn’t find a job related to their qualification, with women over-represented. These included people arriving on skilled migration visas related to the priority skills list.
Deloitte’s conservative estimate of the current cost of this loss of talent is $120 million. If it were reversed it could mean a $250 million increase in higher real gross State product over 10 years — flowing directly from a more productive workforce where this cohort is using their relevant skills, paying taxes and exercising their spending power, and is off welfare.
To clarify, this study which is the first of its kind in Australia, is based only on Queensland, but sources suggest that the same situation and opportunity costs are replicated around the nation, including in WA.
So what’s getting in the way of a solution and how could it be sorted? The short answer is that the system which an individual must navigate to get qualifications and skills recognised, is fragmented across government agencies, State and Commonwealth, industry bodies and third-party providers.
The costs can be prohibitive and the process so long that it can have an impact on the currency of their skill set. Although there is an urgent need to streamline this process, it’s also more than that. Having your skills or qualifications recognised is not a guarantee of work, and to change that requires a willingness by employers to be open to broader recruitment practices and sources of candidates.
This happens when business engages any of the reputable agencies in this space to explore vacancies, candidates’ skills and pathways to work.
There are initiatives where business is involved in mentorships and other pathways, including the successful Kaleidoscope program initiated and run by the City of Stirling, a localised version of a longstanding Toronto Region Immigration Employment Council project in Canada. However, the need outstrips the numbers involved and the current funding. Ideally, there would be co-operation across sectors to scale up this work and to recognise the timeliness of addressing the issue.
Deloitte’s newest research, released last week, examines the future of work and pinpoints that among the skills shortages forecast for the next 10 years, a number align almost perfectly with the currently underused skills of migrants and refugees.
In other words, the people who can play a part in our future are here, not to “take” others’ jobs, but to fill gaps and expand markets. It’s the recruitment of the energy and capacity of our business sector that is the next step in tapping this potential.
Anthony Smith is CEO of MercyCare, one of WA’s most established Not-For-Profits