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Media Release: Increasing productivity by harnessing migrants’ skills

7 November 20130 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 today 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% 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% 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% of tertiary qualified migrants aged between 25 and 34 and 38% 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% of participants had worked in Australia. Those who had worked were mostly in low skilled or non-professional work. After completing SPMP, 89% had found work and, of this group, 64% 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.

One of the study’s authors, social scientist Monica O’Dwyer, said the research showed small interventions could make a difference in helping newly arrived professionals into work in Australia.

She 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.

Read the full report.

About AMES

AMES is the leading provider of humanitarian settlement, education, training and employment services to refugees, asylum seekers and newly arrived migrants in Victoria.

A statutory authority of the Victorian Government, the organisation manages a range of federal and state government contracts including Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS), the Adult Migrant English program (AMEP) General Services and Distance Learning programs; and Job Services Australia (JSA).

The four economic and social determinants of Health and Wellbeing, Education, Employment and Safety and Security are what AMES focuses on to deliver its vision of “full participation for all in a cohesive and diverse society”.

For images, interviews and more information please contact AMES Media Advisor, Laurie Nowell at or 9938 4031 or 0498 196 500.