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12 Dec 2022

Media releases

New research holds clues to activating untapped skilled workforce

Refugee women have the qualifications, skills, and motivation Australian employers need in order to alleviate critical skills shortages, but a web of barriers prevents them from achieving their economic potential, according to research released today.

The ‘Untapped Potential’ research, commissioned by Settlement Services International (SSI) and conducted by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), at the University of Canberra, shines a light on how migrant and refugee women are a largely untapped skilled workforce.

The research highlights how migrant women from low- and middle-income countries and refugee women have greater or similar levels of education to women born in Australia yet are more likely to be employed in roles below their education and experience.

Many of these women have sought-after skills and experience in industries facing critical shortages, such as the health and social sectors. Yet an array of gender, cultural, and systematic barriers limit women, especially those born in low- and middle-income countries and refugee women, from contributing to the workforce at a level that matches their skills and qualifications.

Tadgh McMahon, Head of Research and Policy, SSI, said overcoming these barriers and unlocking the economic potential of migrant and refugee women would improve gender equity and deliver benefits for the broader economy.

“Harnessing the potential of women from all backgrounds is an important part of building economic prosperity in Australia. This research points to where there is a need for targeted policy and programmatic responses to overcome barriers migrant and refugee women face in the workforce,” said McMahon.

The research found that rates of underemployment – women working part-time but wanting to work full-time – were highest among refugee women followed by women born in low- and middle-income countries.

“Fulfilling employment is a key part of settlement and integration, and this research underscores that a more tailored response, focusing on the barriers refugee and migrant women face, could reduce disparities in labour market outcomes,” said Mr McMahon.

“Actions to streamline overseas qualification recognition, provide English language learning that responds to women’s needs, along with subsidised entry into education, and greater opportunities for paid internships can help unlock a largely untapped cohort of skilled workers for the benefit of women themselves and the country.”

Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher, Minister for Women, Finance, and Public Service provided an opening address to kick-off the launch.

Media enquiries

SSI Senior Communications, Officer Jordan Wood:

M: 0403 082 926, E: jwood@ssi.or.gau

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