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Welcoming asylum seekers into the workforce

18 June 2020

Welcoming asylum seekers into the workforce

EPlus Local on the job to support asylum seekers and refugees

As we celebrate Refugee Week 2020 – with the theme “Year of Welcome” – we are reminded of the incredible sacrifice refugees and asylum seekers make to find safety in foreign lands. Settlement is not easy but finding acceptance and support goes a long way towards helping the process.

Understanding the challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees – as well as the barriers to finding employment and an income – The Salvation Army Employment Plus (EPlus), Salvos Diversity and Inclusion team, local corps and centres joined forces to establish EPlus Local. Currently in sites across NSW and Victoria, this holistic initiative assists people seeking asylum to find paid work and help meet their practical and social needs while they await the outcomes of their visa application.

When Mary arrived in Australia as a single mother from Africa, she was fleeing persecution and threats of continued violence. Living with her two young children in cramped and unsafe conditions, she was unable to find work to support her family. Like other asylum seekers, Mary has limited access to support and government-funded job seeker services.

Supported through the Salvation Army EPlus Local program at the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Service in Brunswick, Melbourne, Mary has now completed studies in childcare and aged care, has full-time employment and is securing a better rental property for her family. She feels that her life is finally turning around and she is grateful to The Salvation Army for all its support.

While the program primarily assists people like Mary who are seeking asylum, it also extends to refugees and other vulnerable members of the community.

Empowering asylum seekers to shine

With a focus on providing all-inclusive care for job seekers, including access to affordable food items, conversational English classes, referral for financial counselling and pastoral care, EPlus Local assists asylum seekers from all walks of life. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and significant job-losses nation-wide, the need to support people seeking asylum has become even more pressing.

“When asylum seekers come to our service, I conduct a basic intake interview with them, make sure they have the right to work and find out what kind of work they would like to do,” says Major Karen Elkington from The Salvation Army Asylum Seeker and Refugee Service. “This conversation around work brings them to life! We see who they are, the skills they have and some of the options open to them.”

Consultant, Natarla Reid works with people individually, focussing on their resume, job applications, and other employment needs. She and her team also regularly call local employers to identify relevant job opportunities, introduce participants and advocate on their behalf. During COVID-19 restrictions this work has been done remotely through emails, phone calls, and online appointments.

EPlus Local has also developed a unique partnership with Deakin University’s Centre for Refugee Employment, Advocacy, Training and Education [CREATE] that provides a similar service for people with university degrees.

“They work with the highly-skilled and qualified asylum seekers and offer career clinics and pathways, mentoring and a range of professional networks and connections,” explains Karen. “We have referred 30 people into this program – people who come to us hungry and desperate and who happen to have PhDs and other post-secondary qualifications. At least half have found work through CREATE.

“Natarla, and Shabnam in Dandenong, are doing the same thing with all our asylum seekers – helping them tailor their resumes to get initial jobs wherever they can, and then consider future options. We also assist those who have disabilities and women with young children who are separated from violent partners and have never worked before.”

Breaking down barriers to employment

When Shabnam Oam first started with the EPlus Local program in Dandenong as an employment consultant, she found that her first challenge was to change the perception of potential employers.

“Many of the asylum seekers didn’t speak English, were single mums, had no transport, and no support,” she says. “Many employers were reluctant to give them jobs and had certain preconceptions about them.

“I had to convince them that people seeking asylum would be an asset to any company as they wanted to work, would be reliable and were ready to do anything. I also worked with the asylum seekers and helped prepare them for interviews and how to respond to the needs of each employer. This was successful and we are seeing more of our participants find work.”

Assisting people seeking asylum to enrol in vocational study or courses to open additional employment options is another part of the role. One participant, who completed a free sewing alterations course, is today running her own business and mentoring others.

EPlus Local also has a partnership with the Monash University ‘Fast’ program, which helps new university graduates and undergraduates find employment. “One of our candidates, an accountant in his home country, completed a finance brokering course through Monash,” says Shabnam. “He is working in that field today.”

Most of the initial roles for those seeking asylum are entry-level positions or seasonal roles, which gives them time to get other qualifications recognised, improve their English, enrol in further study or engage in an additional job search. It also gives them local work experience to include in their resumes.

Asylum seekers and refugees contribute to communities in wonderful ways when they are given the opportunity to do so. Programs and services such as EPlus Local enable The Salvation Army to journey alongside them as they adjust to life in Australia.

This article first appeared in The Salvation Army’s online magazine Others.org.au

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