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Economic participation for migrant women

28 November 20170 comments

AMES William Angliss Institute Workplace Skills Course Hospitality

A new initiative is seeking to connect migrant women with employment and business opportunities.

Migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia has identified a need to address systemic issues acting as barriers to the economic participation of women from refugee backgrounds aged 18 to 50. In particular, there was a need to support women who were beyond the early stages of re-settlement, having lived in Australia for more than 3 years.

In the last quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017 AMES Australia in partnership with the Horn of Africa Communities Network (HACN) undertook a consultation and co-design process with over 300 women from refugee communities including: Somalia, Karen/Myanmar, Chin/Myanmar, South Sudan, Eritrea, Iraqi and Iran.

The aim was to build an understanding and response consistent with the lived experience of what could be identified as some of the underlying problems. Women from refugee backgrounds face specific barriers to economic inclusion post arrival, having experienced profound, traumatic and often long term disruption to their lives pre-arrival. As a direct consequence of long term displacement, significant numbers of women from these communities have arrived in Australia with highly disrupted formal education and limited vocational skills or formal work experience commensurate with opportunities within the Australian labour market.

Labour market forecasts developed by the Commonwealth Department of Employment for the period 2015 -2019 indicate a continuing decline in entry level opportunity for new arrivals. Manufacturing jobs in particular are forecast to continue to decline in all sectors. Employment opportunity has and will continue to grow most strongly in areas requiring university degrees or higher level vocational and on the job training. (Commonwealth Department Employment)

In the consultations women from the target communities identified the following barriers in relation to economic participation.

  • English language proficiency
  • Lack of formal qualifications
  • Absence of bridging capital – sustained relationships with people outside their immediate communities
  • Absence of vocational training and support programs offered at a level consistent with existing language competence
  • Few local employment opportunities consistent with women’s existing capabilities
  • Family priorities

The women participating in the consultations felt strongly that barriers to economic participation were also barriers to participation more broadly in many domains within the Australian community. Acknowledging that employment acts as both an indicator of successful settlement/integration and the means through which longer term integration is achieved (Ager & Strang: 2008).

Ongoing structural changes in the Australian labour market has resulted in the continued decline of entry level jobs that have traditionally supported long term settlement and integration of generations of new arrivals.   Compounded with the women’s pre-arrival experiences and their English language levels, women from refugee backgrounds are increasingly unable to maintain social and economic participation pathways into the Australian community.

Through the co-design process undertaken in early 2017 AMES Australia identified 3 cohorts consistent across the engaged communities:

  1. women who want a job;
  2. women who want to increase their vocational skills and use these to get a job or start a small/micro business and
  3. women specifically interested in starting a small/micro business

The determinant of interest was predominantly age: women aged 18 to 35 year wanted employment; women 35 to 45 were the majority of cohort 2; women over 45 were predominantly interested in small/micro business pathways.

The women also expressed a strong desire to support their child and improve their English.

The Pilot

In addition, the consultation process established 3 areas of vocational interest also consistent across the communities. These reflected areas in which the women had existing skills and knowledge and where some have established, or are trying to, micro enterprises to meet existing demand within their cultural communities.

  1. catering, food retail, hospitality
  2. hair and beauty
  3. clothing and textile production

 Based on existing resources two locations were identified to commence a pilot program one in Hoppers Crossing centred on clothing production while the other based at the Sorghum Sisters African Catering and Training based in Kensington and focused on hospitality. Three groups of 15 women commenced in April 2017 at Hopper Crossing and a further 3 groups of 15 women commenced in July at Kensington. The groups will provide pre-accredited contextualised training by qualified industry trainers.

The aim of the programme is to develop a community based bridging program for women from refugee backgrounds which will:

  • increase vocational skills and social confidence of women through contextualised training
  • improve English language proficiency
  • incorporate small business skills
  • explore alternative pathways
  • build cultural knowledge of Australian workplaces through brokered work experience and job placement
  • develop the capacity of grass roots community leaders through the engagement of Community Convenors

Groups are supported by trained volunteers from the Australian community who work with the women to enhance English language competence, increase social confidence and assist participants to identify and clarify personal goals and outcomes.

Community convenors are women from the engaged communities who play an important role in the facilitation of the groups. They encourage and support participants to maintain consistent attendance, ensure training is consistent with the participant’s aspirations and identify group members who are able to undertake additional training and support to achieve their goals or are ready to exit the group to take up a specific opportunity.

What’s next?

While the initial groups were formed on an ethno-specific basis as the women develop and clarify their goals, groups will be formed along interest and skill level by adding elements and components that will continue to progress their pathway to economic inclusion including:

  • short accredited modules
  • Work placements /internships
  • Business incubation
  • Microfinance
  • Bridging Capital/ Social Links/language and cultural knowledge
  • Job search skills and linking work ready participants to Job Active providers

Outcomes to date

One of the sewing groups based at Hoppers Crossing has registered a business name “Raised Made” and undergone training with Global Sisters in business planning. The group at this stage produces garments to meet the needs of its own community.  They continue to explore opportunities in the market and have a concept to reach the broader community.

At Kensington 12 women from across the 3 groups have just completed accredited Barista training. While another woman has developed a product that she would like to position into a particular market segment but now requires skills in small business planning and development.

A review of the programme is to be conducted in late November to understand the development needs of each group and what elements need to be added to continue to progress the women’s pathway to economic inclusion.


By Maria Tsopanis and Chris Pierson