The humanitarian crisis unraveling in front of our eyes calls for urgent responses. As countries open their borders to refugees, there is a clear public interest in combating the barriers faced by those seeking safety and a commitment to give them an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Meaningful employment is an undeniable part of this journey.
However in search of meaningful employment in receiving countries, refugees encounter a multitude of challenges – a ‘canvas ceiling’ that forms a set of invisible barriers for refugees in rebuilding their careers. One of those challenges that refugees face in finding employment is that employers do not see refugees as a valuable talent pool.
Misconceptions and biases around refugee recruitment
Research indicates that businesses’ reluctance to engage in refugee recruitment is due to misconceptions and biases about the refugee talent pool, and the heavy overestimation of challenges associated with the process.
This overestimation is especially pronounced among employers who have never considered hiring refugees and who rely on erroneous stereotypes to form opinions about this group of people.
Many recruiters also assume that hiring refugees is time-consuming, costly, cumbersome, provides limited returns on investment and could even be potentially detrimental to the business. These misconceptions often result from absence of knowledge or exposure to refugee job seekers.
Contrary to the misconceptions, our recent research demonstrates that employers who hire refugees uncover multiple benefits. Among the many benefits, employers stressed that:
Refugees bring a multitude of skills and experiences, many in high demand in the increasingly competitive war for talent.
Refugees are determined to rebuild their professional lives in the receiving countries. They are therefore determined to show employers that the investment made is going to pay off.
Employing refugees increases the company’s morale and brings a new perspective on the meaning of business’ role in addressing socially urgent grand challenges.
Employers who build mentorship programs aligned with their refugee recruitment initiatives report that their employees gain invaluable interpersonal skills and new perspectives that help develop their leadership capabilities.
Refugee recruitment is welcome and increasingly expected by customers and shareholders.
Hiring refugees is not just the right thing to do. It’s a way to expand corporate talent pipelines, engage stakeholders, and be a part of the solution to increasingly pressing societal matters, with the benefits outweighing the challenges and generating considerable gains for both the businesses and refugees.
Where do companies start?
With the undeniable gains, businesses must overcome their misconceptions about hiring refugees and start acting.
1 – Collaborate with not-for-profit organisations
One way HR can initiate the hiring process is to work with specialists in the field. Recent research identified numerous benefits for businesses to improve refugee and asylum seeker employment outcomes via collaboration with not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises that specialise in refugee employment.
This collaboration could include sourcing refugee talent for a specific business line, screening candidates, assessing foreign qualifications and expertise, providing pre-employment training and onboarding, navigating governmental incentives for hiring disadvantaged job seekers, and an ongoing support system for both employers and refugees. Additionally, close collaboration with not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises reduces the costs associated with recruitment and training programmes, including cross-cultural and inclusion support.
Recent guides for employers considering hiring refugees are a source of inspiration and insights on where to start and what model of initial employment to pursue. While some organisations make a decision to engage in large-scale employment initiatives immediately (see, for example, the recent employment program of IKEA Australia), most start more modestly. In both cases, the support from an experienced not-for-profit organisation or social enterprise is invaluable.
2 – Change existing stereotypes in your company culture
Hiring refugees is not difficult or resource-demanding. However, it needs sensitivity and willingness to change one’s stereotypes and misconceptions. While hiring disadvantaged job seekers is often seen as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity, there is a strong business case behind diversifying the corporate talent pool through refugee recruitment.
Organisations can start by testing their own socio-cultural stereotypes about refugees. For refugee employment to work, employees at all levels need to understand the unique circumstances refugees face and the hardship associated with building a new life in the receiving country. If the company is ready to open its doors to refugees, there are numerous resources that can aid employers through refugee recruitment and onboarding.
3 – Learn and create a collaborative model of employment
Employers can learn about refugee recruitment through own research and industry publications. Looking through the toolkits, such as employers’ guides, can help shape the employers’ understanding of what refugee recruitment looks like. Case studies of successful integration can no doubt be a great source of inspiration. Reaching out to industry peers who successfully hired refugees and learning about what worked form them, is another way to get first-hand actionable ideas.
A collaborative model of employment is a good starting point for those employers who do not know where to start their refugee recruitment journey. Many not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises provide a whole suite of support services for individuals, teams and organisations to support all the stages of refugee recruitment and onboarding.
Lastly, those businesses that are already on this journey are in a unique position to act as industry leaders, paving the path to engagement for others. So, if you have successfully hired refugees, let others know about it, and be a part of the solution to the grand humanitarian challenge we are witnessing today.
Dr Jeannie Lee is a Lecturer in Management at the Newcastle Business School, College of Human and Social Futures. Dr Betina Szkudlarek is a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School and teaches on the global CEMS programme.
The authors have an established record of research on refugee workforce integration have access to numerous employers who are eager to share their experiences. Moreover, they are active participants in corporate networks that bring together organisations that hire refugees and are keen contributors to public debate around refugee workforce integration.