Refugee bricklaying program gives old skills a new fit

Building their futures in Australia: Iraqi refugees Nawar Hanna and Nader Sameer. Source: SSI

A new training program is getting refugees arriving in Australia back on their feet with paid employment while easing a skills shortage in the construction industry.

A new training program is seeking to connect refugees to industries facing skills shortages.

Nawar Hanna and Nader Sameer, who arrived in Australia a few months ago, are two participants of the pilot.

"Because of the current situation and the bad circumstances in Iraq of the war, that's why we left Iraq to Turkey and from Turkey we applied to come to Australia," Nader told SBS.


Thirty eight-year-old Nader and 19-year-old Nawar became friends after they met through a paid apprenticeship program run by refugee organisation Settlement Services International in partnership with TAFE NSW, industry body the Australian Brick and Blocklaying Training Foundation and company Austral Bricks.

The program seeks to get newly arrived refugees in Australia with skills in construction accredited and ready for work.

Nawar said his background as a tradesman in Iraq made the program an obvious choice.

"Yes I had experience, I used to work my trade at homes. That's why I decided to do this course so I can hopefully, god willing, get the licence and work,” he said.

About 3500 refugees from Iraq and Syria have arrived in Australia this year. About 3150 visas have been issued and a further 6000 people are undergoing health, character and security checks as part of Australia's refugee processing system.

SSI Manager Yamamah Agha said the program was an important first step in linking refugees to Australian society through training and employment.

The program operates out of Granville TAFE in Western Sydney.
The program operates out of Granville TAFE in Western Sydney.

"Refugees face a lot of challenges when they come to Australia, even though they come with a lot of skills and motivation to work that does not lead to employment,” she said.

“It is very important for refugees, because refugees they come with a lot of skills and experience and they need an opportunity to prove their skills and to start their new life in Australia."

Brendan Coyle from the Australian Brick and Blocklaying Training Foundation said the partnership - between refugee service providers, TAFE and the construction Industry - is also helping to fill a major skills gap in the bricklaying industry.

"So with the refugees we have been quite selective in regards to getting people with construction experience, we have also Arabic speaking contractors who are looking for bricklayers as well," he told SBS.

Nawar and Nader are among the first to complete the program and Nader said once he finds employment after the course he will work towards setting up his own business in Australia.

"I am aiming to work with someone until I get my licence and then after that maybe I will think about working for myself," he said. 

He also said if the opportunity should arise the pair would love to go into business together: "If there is an opportunity we are willing to work together."

Ms Agha said she hoped they would be the first of many refugees to do so.

"Initial feedback was very positive, the refugees who participated said they were very happy with the program,” she said.

“So this training will go for up to three years and after three years those refugees will have the opportunity to start their own business and to build their futures in Australia."

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