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Unlocking the potential of migrants and refugees

Unlocking the potential of migrants and refugees with specialised employment services

Migrants and refugees make up 24% of the South Australian population, and estimated to increase to around 32% in 2050.

It is reported that over one-third of this population experience difficulty finding their first job, with over 22% still unable to find employment even 10 years after arriving in Australia.

This is due to the unique challenges they face in finding employment compared to the general population.

With a lack of Australian work experience and local contacts, combined with language barriers, feelings of isolation, poor mental health, trauma exposure, and the many stresses associated with adjusting to a new country, it is unsurprising that the unemployment rate among this population is 2% higher than the national average.

To overcome these challenges, migrants and refugees require specialised employment support which exceeds what is provided by mainstream employment services.

One organisation that has been striving to meet this need is Sonder, a South-Australian-based, not-for-profit that provides health and support services across areas such as mental health, alcohol and other drugs, disability, Aboriginal health, and employment.

Sonder has delivered Employment Solutions since 2019, Australia’s first employment service specifically designed for migrants and refugees that provides integrated mental health and vocational support.

Unlike mainstream employment services, the Employment Solutions program facilitates smaller client caseloads, enabling the team to adopt a person-centred approach, taking time to learn about each client’s unique needs, personal aspirations, and skills.

Sonder CEO, Sageran Naidoo said that the program is focused on providing culturally responsive employment support.

Multi-culturalism has been at the heart of the program since its inception. 90% of the team have lived experience of migration, meaning they are uniquely positioned to understand the challenges faced by this under-served population group and can provide considered and specialised support.

To date, Career Coaches and Wellbeing Coaches in the Employment Solutions program have facilitated a total of 566 job placements, 146 training or education placements and 1,562 mental health appointments.

The program’s Career Coaches guide the client along the entire journey toward employment, working with them to have their overseas skills recognised, identify jobs that interest them, write resumes and cover letters, prepare for interviews, help manage the requirements of Centrelink and Job Service Providers and speak with employers to work through any challenges that may arise.

The program also works to break down stigma amongst organisations and create awareness and understanding of the value migrants and refugees can bring to the workforce.

Supporting local businesses to see the value of a migrant and refugee workforce

Since its inception, the program has maintained 5,200 partnerships with local employers, forging connections for clients across a range of different industries.

Speaking of the benefits of employing migrants and refugees, James Chapman from The Food Centre explains “Having a diverse organisation gives you a great mix of traditions and values and creates greater acceptance and understanding within the workforce. The support we receive from Sonder has been excellent. If one of their clients here is having some difficulty, it is great to be able to discuss that with Sonder and work it out.”

Breaking down complex psychosocial barriers to employment

In addition to receiving employment support, clients are also able to work with Wellbeing Coaches to address any mental health challenges they may be experiencing.

Despite being more vulnerable to psychological distress and poor emotional health, research shows that help-seeking for mental health challenges amongst the migrant and refugee population is low. This is largely attributable to poor mental health literacy, limited understanding of new health care systems, financial difficulties, mixed cultural understandings of mental illness and associated stigmas.

Wellbeing Coaches in the program seek to break down these barriers and provide trauma-informed mental health support that considers the client’s diverse values, beliefs, and cultural practices.

The mental health support provided in the program aims to empower clients to achieve positive change and improve the likelihood of obtaining and sustaining work after experiencing long-term unemployment and its effects.

One client who received wellbeing support through the program commented “It was like magic! I’ve had lots of appointments with doctors, and social workers and no one could make me speak from the first appointment about how I felt until now.”

Another unique and effective element of the program is its integration within a primary health care organisation which enables clients to access wraparound support from a wide range of other services to ensure all their needs are met, leading to improved health outcomes and quality of life.

Continuation of the service is in jeopardy

Funding for this indispensable program may cease in June next year, and ongoing funding for the program is desperately needed.

In the absence of this service, this hard-to-reach cohort will be forced to rely on mainstream employment services that are ill-equipped to alleviate the unique challenges they face in finding sustainable employment.

With labour and skills shortages at their most severe levels in 48 years, we need to look toward ways in which we can unlock the under-utilised potential of refugees and migrants.

This can be achieved by providing more assistance to this population group through specialised programs like Employment Solutions which seek to empower migrants and refugees, remove obstacles to workforce entry and make their lives more fulfilling.

To learn more about Sonder’s Employment Solutions program, visit sonder.net.au/employment-solutions or call (08) 8209 0700