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Betina Szkudlarek

University of Sydney Business School

Associate professor

Read more about Betina Szkudlarek

The overlooked talent: Seven misconceptions hindering refugee recruitment

Dr Betina Szkudlarek and Dr Eun Su Lee discuss seven misconceptions that prevent HR managers from considering refugees as a valuable source of talent.

Refugees are one of the most overlooked talent pools when it comes to recruitment, despite an abundance of skills, qualifications, experience and a multitude of other attributes desperately sought after in the increasingly competitive war for talent.

One of the key issues that impacts refugees’ employment prospects is employers’ misconceptions about refugees and the process of recruiting from this group of candidates.

Below, we list a number of misconceptions that often prevent HR managers from considering refugees as a valuable source of talent.

1. Refugees lack skills

War, prosecution, violence or conflict do not choose their victims. They are not discriminatory and could affect anyone. For this reason, refugees are a highly diverse cohort, coming from all stages of life and professional backgrounds.

They could be doctors, engineers or carpenters. Consequently, with refugees’ diverse educational and occupational backgrounds, every employer could potentially find talent relevant to their industry.

2. Refugees do not have relevant working rights

Refugees’ legal status differs from country to country, with many receiving states assigning full working rights to refugees. Resettlement agencies that support refugees and labour agencies that facilitate their employment will be able to advise whether a refugee candidate has valid working rights.

3. Refugees do not have the local language skills that are needed on the job

Many employers assume that the receiving country’s language proficiency is a precondition for securing employment in their organisation. While there are undoubtedly professions where such proficiency will be required, there are many others where it is not.

Proactive employers adjust their recruitment practices to allow employees of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to demonstrate their skillsets in practice and during on-the-job trials, instead of asking them to explain what they can do.

Research shows that employees from CALD backgrounds can perform to the highest workplace standards despite language barriers.

Research shows that employees from CALD backgrounds have already proven their capacity to perform to the highest standard in workplaces where their language capabilities might not be on par with that of the local workforce.

4. We do not get any refugee applicants, so we cannot hire them

Many refugees hide their backgrounds – including their foreign qualifications – to avoid the stigma that might come with their humanitarian status or prejudice against the country of their ethnic origin.

Other refugees might not stand a chance to get through traditional recruitment processes that could differ significantly from those in their home countries. To this end, much refugee talent is wasted due to implicit (and explicit) biases and ethnocentric recruitment processes.

5. Refugee recruitment is primarily a corporate social responsibility activity

There is a strong business case for refugee recruitment. Companies such as IKEA and Woolworths, which engaged in large scale refugee employment programmes in Australia, consistently report the positive outcomes this engagement has had for their business.

Recent research shows that companies that hire refugees are reporting both high productivity and retention rates among this talent group. In addition, these companies have highlighted the positive organisational outcomes that refugee recruitment brings by increasing employee morale and work engagement.

6. Refugee recruitment requires huge resource commitment

Refugee recruitment can start small and take different forms of engagement, such as internships, traineeships, and short-term and part-time contracting. In fact, many support organisations that facilitate refugee employment recommend companies to begin with small steps by hiring one or two refugees and gradually increasing engagement.

Each company has a different recruitment process and corporate culture. To this end, workforce diversification is a step that will assume a unique shape depending on the size, industry and current levels of diversity within the firm.

7. Even if we are keen to hire refugees, there is nobody that could help us to start on this journey

Many employers assume that they are on their own when it comes to refugee recruitment. Despite good intentions, they do not know where to find refugee talent or access the right support to pursue refugee employment initiatives.

There are multiple non-governmental organisations and social enterprises that specialise in refugee recruitment. They can help in finding, screening and onboarding suitable job candidates. These organisations could also assist the employers in creating an inclusive workplace for the new and existing employees.

Refugee recruitment can be a win-win for the employer, the refugee, and society at large.

Collaborative approaches can take various forms, and there are numerous resources, such as an Employers Guide to Refugee Employment, that could help employers take the first step.

Refugee recruitment can be a win-win for the employer, the refugee, and society at large. While many misconceptions prevent corporate engagement, research shows that these are often unfounded.

To change the status quo, employers need to open their minds and hearts to refugee job seekers.

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Betina Szkudlarek

Associate professor

Read more from Betina Szkudlarek

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