Mentoring program helping skilled migrants into work
A professional mentoring program is succeeding in getting newly arrived skilled migrants into jobs that fit their qualifications and experience while also helping to harness the skills and cultural knowledge migrants bring with them, according to new research.
A study of the effectiveness of the Skilled Professional Migrants Program (SPMP) and its mentoring component – which aims to bridge the cultural divide faced by some migrants relaunching their careers in Australia – found that a large number of professional migrants faced considerable challenges in finding work in their fields.
But the study also found that after completing the SPMP, around 80 per cent of students had found work and 61 per cent were in professional jobs.
Before enrolling in the SPMP program, less than 35 per cent of participants had worked in Australia. Those who had worked were mostly in low skilled or non-professional roles.
The study recommends increased investment in programs like the SPMP to improve migrant inclusion in the workforce as well as engaging more employers and stakeholders with professional mentoring program to help more skilled migrants to find work in their professions.
It also recommends replicating some of the features of the SPMP to other groups newly arrived in Australia such as refugees.
The SPMP program, operated by AMES Australia, introduces professional migrants to Australian workplace culture and job seeking techniques. Participants receive advice about professional interviews as well as insights into Australian workplace culture.
The study titled ‘A report on professional mentoring in AMES Australia’s Skilled Professional Migrant Program (SPMP), found barriers to work included: unfamiliarity with recruitment practices; a lack of professional networks and difficulty growing them; little knowledge of Australian workplace culture; and, difficulties having qualifications recognised.
The research was based on interviews exploring the job seeking experiences of 379 people who had completed the SPMP program over four years between 2013 and 2016. It also included a focus group of 12 independent mentor-mentee relationships.
It canvased participants from 40 countries – the majority from China, India, Sri Lanka, Iran and South America. The largest groups of professionals were engineers, IT specialists, accountants, scientists and business managers.
More than 123,000 people arrived in Australia as skilled migrants in 2016-2017.
Around 10 per cent of these – or 12,000 people, mostly from non-English speaking backgrounds – have trouble finding work appropriate to their training, according to ABS figures.
And, according to ABS figures, 53 per cent of migrants who come to Australia under the Skilled Migrant Program ultimately work in the same occupation they nominated as immigrants.
According to the 2016 Census, up to 40 per cent of tertiary qualified migrants aged between 25 and 34 and 38 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 were in low or medium skilled occupations.
The study says the success of the SPMP is clear. It says all of the mentees reported an improvement in their personal and professional development skills; they all reported a broadened cultural and professional knowledge base.
“It is an example of a low-cost, high impact intervention that delivers on the promise of opportunity made to new arrivals in Australia,” the study says.
“The SPMP mentoring program was shown to have positive effects on improving and sustaining the professional and personal growth of mentees in order to find a job commensurate with their skills and qualifications,” it says.
Study co-author and researcher Carissa Gilham said the SPMP had the potential to significantly maximise the use of skills brought by migrants and contribute to Australia’s productivity.
She said productivity gains would be long term because most skilled migrants arriving in Australia were in the early stages of their careers. It said the employment of skilled migrants increased diversity in the workforce and built cultural competence needed to connect with overseas markets.
“An effective strategy to make the most of migrants’ skills would be to establish a national program for professionals who require targeted employment orientation to relaunch their careers in Australia,” Ms Gilham said.
AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth said the research showed small interventions could make a big difference in helping newly arrived professionals into work in Australia.
“Attracting people with professional skills and qualifications is a significant objective of Australia’s immigration program. But in many cases these skills are going unused and we are missing out on potentially productive people who can bring new perspectives and unique problem solving skills,” Ms Scarth said.
“We are seeing many of these professional migrants accepting jobs outside their skill sets or in roles well below their actual capacities,” she said.
“This research shows these kinds of programs are effective in giving professional migrants and insight into and some experience of what it takes to get a job in Australia,” Ms Scarth said.
Construction engineer Anthony Wang from China migrated to Australia in 2018. After an initial struggle to find work in his field, he joined the SPMP to learn more about the local job market and application process.
Two months after completing the program, he secured a job as a project coordinator working for a small building company.
Anthony said being matched with a mentor who had over 25 years of experience in his industry was very helpful.
“My mentor helped me to understand the recruitment process and the purpose of the process,” Anthony said.
“I was able to attend interviews with a clear idea of what message to get across to the recruiter,” he said.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist