What is the best way businesses can help refugees?

Source: HRM Online 23 Sept 2016Refugees at work in Australia

Despite the anti-immigration sentiments of some in politics, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has just boosted the government’s humanitarian refugees program. It should be welcome news for businesses looking to refresh their talent pools.

At a time when other countries are shutting their doors, Australia is opening hers just a bit wider. During a speech at a special summit on refugees hosted by US President Barack Obama earlier this week, PM Turnbull stated Australia will make a new – and permanent – intake of 18,750 refugees, up from 13,750. He has also promised an additional $130 million over the next three years to support systems.

While some are calling the efforts “modest,” the increased intake makes Australia one of the most generous countries per capita in this respect. It also means that we will see a growing number of asylum seekers looking for work.

What do Australian businesses have to gain by employing refugees? Although there is no long-term statistical data on their economic contributions, short-term studies and anecdotal evidence are all positive.

Migrants are more likely to have enterprising qualities, many come from skilled backgrounds, and they consistently display lower rates of turnover and increased employer loyalty. One 2015 study of 170 refugees in regional Victoria found that they added $40 million to the local economy over five years. In addition, refugees are valuable for workplace diversity and employee engagement.

However, these facts aren’t reflective of refugee’s experiences. A study from earlier this year shows that only one-fifth of refugees find employment within their first 18 months here, and only 7 per cent find employment within the first six months.

The biggest barriers to employment are lack of affordable housing, ability to speak English, absence of Australian work experience, mental health issues and culture shock. It’s a vital step, though. The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) says that besides the economic benefits of paid employment, work is important in providing a sense of belonging and community. And the earlier it happens, the better.

While some governments might stall in their efforts to help refugees, businesses are taking the lead. At the same summit where PM Turnbull spoke, a suite of organisations pledged to devote resources totalling USD$650 million to helping and training refugees.

Airbnb, Google, HP, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Uber, Twitter and more promised to help in ways befitting their expertise. For example, Airbnb will help hosts with extra space invite refugees into their homes as a backup to long-term housing. Microsoft, Google and Coursera are expanding education efforts and skills training for here and abroad. And LinkedIn says it will expand its refugee recruitment program, Welcoming Talent, beyond its initial launch in Sweden.

For most migrants, getting here is half the battle. As we get ready to welcome a larger intake of refugees, businesses need to think about the role they play and do what they do best– provide employment opportunities. After all, gaining stable, fulfilling work makes the resettlement process that much easier.

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