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  • (AAP/Dan Peled)
Migrants and refugees often struggle to find work in Australia. A lack of language skills, Australian experience and cross-cultural misunderstandings can provide additional barriers.
Maria Schaller, Wolfgang Mueller

29 Mar 2017 - 6:42 PM  UPDATED 29 Mar 2017 - 6:42 PM

Getting your foot in the Australian job market can be very challenging, especially for those who arrive here as migrants or refugees.

A study by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia shows how migrants struggle to break into the labour market, but can succeed if given early support in job hunting.

The study’s lead author Monica O’Dwyer says that those who found jobs mostly worked on a casual basis.

"For many new migrants, and especially in our study, where it was mostly women, face a number of barriers after migrating to Australia. In particular, this could be a long-career gap due to the migration itself, needing to learn English and sometimes supporting the settlement of their families. It´s really difficult to pick up your former career in these circumstances. And also to develop the networks that are important for many professional careers in Australia."

O´Dwyer emphasizes how many migrants who were able to find employment work in low-level jobs beneath their qualifications or experience. Margaret Davis runs a program within AMES that helps migrants to understand what

"I think the real struggles are trying to fit in to the Australian job market. Many come with a resume, but it may not be appropriate. And also they tend not to look at job ads or don´t read them carefully. And also people tend to apply for a job and ignore some of the must haves." - Margaret Davis, AMES

She says having a good resume is an important part of the job search.

"Learning to adapt each application for a specific position. Using key words and phrases from the job advertisement, which really demonstrates their understanding and their fit. Keeping resumes short and relevant to address the local requirements is quite difficult. Quantifiable achievements are very important. Preparing a relevant cover letter and trying to get the person´s name if possible. Asking somebody to check their application for spelling, grammar and again relevance."

30-year-old Bob, a Tanzanian construction worker came to Australia four years ago. He says there are several reasons why it's hard for new migrants like himself to find work.

"The first reason would be the language, even if you used to speak English when you were at home. I mean the accent, the way of communicating; it's a little bit different to the ways when you apply [for a job] at home. So that makes things a little bit hard. But apart from that is the issue of culture as well, so for that reason it is hard to go and hunt for a job."

After many knock-backs from employers, Bob decided to join a job agency that provides employment opportunities. Italian secondary-school teacher Alessandro Miccichè also experienced similar difficulties when he first tried to find work five years ago.

"I need to say it was very challenging at first, it´s quite different to my country. And I guess here it depends on your profession as well, that´s what I noticed. The very first challenge for me was to create a resume which would be good enough to get a job. I had to write resumes in different ways. And as my profession was the profession of a teacher, I had to address every single criterion in a different way and write something which would be interesting to the people that were considering my application."

Margaret Davis says once a job seeker gets through the resume and telephone recruitment, it's important to prepare well for a face-to-face interview.

"Do their research, so that they don´t go wondering what they are going to be asked. Talking to recruiters about the positions that they are going to apply for. And practise responses to possible questions. Also try not to write down sentences and remember them, but just to have some points, so that they are talking more naturally."

The Federal Government’s main scheme is "Jobactive" which connects job seekers and employers.

Victoria State Manager Adrian Jenkins explains the program.

"Job seekers come to us generally through the Centrelink system, so most of the job seekers will be on some form of income support. And the level of service depends on the circumstances of the individual. Generally speaking, when a job seeker comes to us they will sit down with one of our consults to do a Job Plan. And we will look at a whole range of possibilities to assist them. In some cases that may be as simple as assisting them with their resumes, also educating people about how the labour market works at the moment."

Job seekers can receive help to look for work, but also targeted training that includes writing resumes and preparing for interviews. Potential job offers will then be directly transferred to the job seekers. However, the support is connected to service expectations and mutual obligations. Jenkins outlines the current transition the job market is facing.

"It is difficult at the moment with the labour market. There is an increase in the number of part-time and casual jobs. The workforce is still becoming ‘casualised’, if that´s the word. And the number of full-time jobs is decreasing. Some industries are diminishing, the manufacturing sector... There are however opportunities, there are some growth industries. Food processing for example is one area there is some growth in employment. Obviously the health care and community services sector is another growth industry. Aged care facilities, gardeners, maintenance people, so there is opportunities out there."

Job seekers can receive help to look for work, but also targeted training that includes writing resumes and preparing for interviews.

He says something that most job seekers are not considering is the importance of a wide network when it comes to job opportunities.

"One thing that we try and coach people in is that almost a third of all jobs are not necessarily advertised, is word of mouth. So it´s really important for people to understand that their own networking is really important. Often it is a friend of a friend of a friend who recommends someone to a job that´s not advertised. The longer you are unemployed one thing that happens is your network starts to diminish, it becomes almost a catch-22."

As the employment market remains difficult for new arrivals, Tanzanian migrant Bob is not giving up on his Australian dream. He vows to put in the extra hours to upgrade his qualifications to finally be rewarded with the job he thinks he should have.

Translated fact sheets are available in 15 languages for job seekers.

"It's up to you. You have to adjust and come up with something that pleases the employers to give you the job you most desire. That means you have to open up the books and study harder but time will come and you'll get the job you think you need. So I have not given up, I'll get something better."

 Learn more about the jobactive program.