We all remember finding our first job. That initial leap into the workplace means navigating a new world with its own unique jargon and requirements like CVs, interview skills and position descriptions.
For many people, that process is eased with help from older relatives or friends who have experience of the local job market and employment practices — and maybe even warm business contacts.
For refugees though, the process of finding a job contains many challenges, no matter how many degrees, skills or years of experience you bring to Australia. New arrivals are dealing with language barriers, a lack of local experience and referees, and often, little knowledge about the quirks of the job seeking process in Australia.
Nonetheless, securing employment remains one of the most integral steps on the pathway to successful settlement. It helps refugees to become economically independent, to forge links in the broader community and, ultimately, to build a sense of belonging and identity in Australia.
That’s something we at SSI recognise, which is why employment forms a core part of our work with refugees.
It is the basis of our self-funded Ignite Small Business Start-ups initiative, which has helped more than 66 people of refugee background establish their own businesses. An evaluation of the initiative released last month shows the incredible effect Ignite has had in just three short years of operation.
At the time of the study, 68 per cent of Ignite graduates had moved off Centrelink, with some also paying company tax and generating jobs for others. In-depth interviews with 35 of the entrepreneurs identified savings of $880,000 a year in Centrelink benefits among this group alone.
The success of Ignite has inspired its expansion into other areas. I’m delighted to announce that we have recently launched IgniteAbility Small Business Start-ups for budding entrepreneurs with disability. We already have 14 entrepreneurs working with our enterprise facilitators.
Like the original initiative, IgniteAbility taps into part of our community with high rates of entrepreneurship and provides an ecosystem to support these aspiring entrepreneurs to overcome the barriers they face and create their own employment.
But we’re not just focusing on finding work for budding entrepreneurs; SSI is also working with major employers as part of the Friendly Nation Initiative (FNI) — a business-led strategy that seeks to increase employment, mentoring, training and internship opportunities for refugees. It builds partnerships between corporate Australia and leaders in the settlement space like SSI, with the aim of linking business needs with refugee skills.
Just last month, we held a Harmony Day event as part of our involvement with FNI, where attendees enjoyed the African beats and dancing of Karifi Ensemble, along with a diverse spread of canapés from SSI Catering — a social enterprise that gives job seekers work experience in a commercial kitchen environment.
It is this rounded approach to employment — incorporating start-up incubators, employment services, work experience opportunities and partnerships with corporate Australia — that is achieving the best settlement outcomes for the refugees SSI supports.
This was recognised at the Australian Migration and Settlement Awards (AMSA) last month, when SSI won the Settlement Innovation category for our approach to supporting refugees, migrants and members of the community in finding employment.
This approach addresses direct employment barriers such as English-language competency and qualification recognition. Through a holistic and integrated settlement support model, we also recognise and address non-vocational barriers such as mental health challenges, housing support and child care.
By supporting refugees and connecting them with employment and training opportunities, we hope to give our new community members the best start to life in Australia and set them on the path to future success.