Skilled migrants make experience count with help of new initiative

New research shows many skilled migrants and refugees aren't being considered for positions they're qualified for, because they don't have Australian work experience.

Khalid Sawalha doesn’t look out of place in the corporate world as he arrives for a weekly mentoring session at PwC in Sydney. He’s met by Sinead White, a senior manager who is trying to help the 43-year-old land his dream job.

As the pair comb through Mr Sawalha’s resume his various achievements are listed off.

Previously a senior HR executive in Damascus, he’s managed large teams and also has a master’s degree from Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom.

Senior manager Sinead White is one of the PwC mentors.
Source: SBS News

But since moving to Australia from Syria on a skilled migrant visa with his wife and young daughter last year, the Mr Sawalha has only managed to secure a handful of interviews.

To date he has applied for nearly 600 roles.

“It’s quite a big number,” Mr Sawalha tells SBS News.

“I’ve got hundreds of rejection emails. Some of them were because I’m overqualified for the position I applied for and many others because of the lack of local experience.”

Mr Sawalha’s experience isn’t out of the ordinary, according to experts in the field.

'A catch-22 situation'

A three-year research project by Sydney University, the University of Technology Sydney and Western Sydney University is looking into the employment outcomes of Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

But those working on the project say they've heard similar responses from a broad range of skilled new arrivals too.

“Local labour market experience [is] echoed over and over again,” University of Sydney Business School’s Dimitria Groutsis told SBS News.

Dimitria Groutsis from the University of Sydney Business School.
Source: SBS News

“That’s pretty much a catch-22 situation because to get local labour market experience you need a foot in the door and to get a foot in the door you need local labour market experience.”

The City East Mentor Program is one initiative trying to give skilled migrants an edge.

Since 2016, job seekers have been paired with professionals with the aim of broadening their network, tailoring their resume to the Australian jobs market and preventing what's dubbed a "brain waste."

“We have a situation where you have highly skilled and qualified University educated engineers driving Ubers, or IT professionals painting houses,” City East Mentor Program Coordinator Margaret Teed told SBS News.

“That’s not working at their full potential and not contributing to Australian society as they’d like to.”

City East Mentor Program Coordinator Margaret Teed.
Source: SBS News

Over 45 percent of mentees have found paid work in their desired field after four months in the program.

Since working with Sinead White at PwC, Khalid Sawalha has doubled his interview call-backs, with the experience proving positive for businesses too.

“I’ve gained a whole new perspective,” Sinead White said.

“It’s certainly made me more aware of unconscious bias and how we screen applicants for roles.”

Mr Sawalha is waiting to hear back from an interview and said he is staying positive about his job search.

Published 12 May 2018 at 6:45pm, updated 14 May 2018 at 2:45pm
By Hannah Sinclair