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Increasing productivity by harnessing migrants’ skills

8 December 20134 comments

Australia would see productivity boosted and an increase in the availability of skilled workers through a national program to help skilled migrants into professional jobs, according to new research.

The programs would also harness the skills and cultural knowledge of professionals from non-English speaking countries to help access overseas markets, according to the research commissioned by settlement agency AMES and unveiled this month at the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) 2013 Conference on the Gold Coast.

A review of the effectiveness of the Skilled Professional Migrants Program (SPMP) – 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.

Around 130,000 people arrived in Australia as skilled migrants in 2012-2013. Around 10 per cent of these – or 13,000 people, mostly from non-English speaking backgrounds – have trouble finding work appropriate to their training, according to ABS figures.

And only 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 2006 Census, up to 40 per cent of tertiary qualified migrants aged between 25 and 34 and 38 per cent of those aged 35 top 54 were in low or medium skilled occupations.

The research report titled ‘Securing futures: making the most of migrants’ skills’, 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 239 people who had completed the SPMP program. 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.

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 work. After completing SPMP, 89 per cent had found work and, of this group, 64 per cent were in professional jobs.

The SPMP program, operated by AMES, 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.

“Australia’s immigration program attracts a high proportion of highly skilled professionally qualified migrants. This research suggests that there is a role for employment orientation, such as the SPMP, for some migrants – particularly those from non-English speaking backgrounds,” the report said.

“The SPMP is an intervention that can maximise the use of skills brought by migrants and contribute to Australia’s productivity,” it said.

The report 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,” the report said.

The study’s authors, AMES researchers Monica O’Dwyer and Stella Mulder, said the research showed small interventions could make a difference in helping newly arrived professionals into work in Australia.

They said a national program driven by governments would yield increased productivity and better outcomes for professional migrants

“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 O’Dwyer 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.

She said programs like SPMP could help harness the skills and experience of professional migrants.

“Our 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 O’Dwyer said.

AMES student Pouria Ebram has secured a job as a direct result of his participation in AMES initiatives for skilled migrants, including SPMP.

A technical design engineer from Iran, Pouria started work with a telecommunications company on October 7.

“The SPMP course was very helpful in assisting me to gain an understanding of workplace culture in Australia and it also gave me practical skills,” Pouria said.

“All the skills I’d gained on SPMP were vital and then the two-day seminar helped improve my confidence back. Soon after, I had another interview and this time I was offered a job in my field. This has made a big difference to my life in Australia,” he said.