Employer and employee meeting in airport arrivals
Publication 26 November 2019

Talent Beyond Boundaries connecting Australian companies and skilled refugees to fill skills gaps

Australian businesses report skills shortages as one of the biggest problems they face and claim it is increasingly hard to find the right people with the right skills locally.

With 41 per cent of large Australian enterprises struggling to hire skilled staff and 43 per cent of medium sized unable to recruit locally, many of these businesses are asking where they can find a talent pool of suitably skilled workers.

Not-for-profit organization Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) recognized there was an obvious answer - if only these businesses could match their skills gaps with the thousands of highly skilled refugees not in employment.

Many of these workers have been trained in once-advanced economies but are unable to work in their home countries due to war and conflict.

With 70 million people around the world misplaced due to war and 25.9 million of those refugees, many are stuck in a limbo situation where they can’t go home and they can’t work legally.

Talent Beyond Boundaries Australia Director Steph Cousins describes this as a massive humanitarian issue that can span generations.

"What this results in is exploitation and abuse, of people who are underpaid, exploited and have no one to complain to because they are not meant to be working. And it is not a temporary situation, this goes on for years. Refugees have children who are born and grow up in this situation, living on the fringes of society for years."

For businesses, this is also an opportunity, as highly skilled workers, such as doctors, engineers, nurses, lawyers are desperate to get a job in their area of expertise and could fill skills gaps in other countries.

"You can look at that as an opportunity. That's 25.9 million people who are stuck in a situation that they want to get out of. They are highly motivated to relocate to somewhere they can make a life and at least half of those are working age."

On one side you have this demand and then on the other side you have got a supply that’s not able to use their skills so Talent Beyond Boundaries saw it as a real opportunity to get a win-win for employers and for refugees who have those skills,
Steph Cousins
Steph Cousins


The pilot

TBB saw the potential and set about creating a world-first pilot program that would match 10 refugees from overseas with jobs in Australia where they can use their skills and talents.

Taking an idea like this and making it a reality, setting the foundation for a program that can be scaled up if successful, was not straightforward.

"The first thing was that we needed to prove that the refugees actually had the skills," Cousins says.

"We got a lot of push back even from refugee organisations themselves saying the skills weren’t there, so we had to prove them wrong."

TBB created a "talent catalogue" of potential candidates and then had to prove we could get people with the right skills and professional background to the employer.

"We had a company that issued a job offer to a Syrian software engineer, who was living in Jordan in very difficult circumstances so we set up a meeting with Australia's Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton and said this guy is amazing how do we get him out here" Cousins says.

"That was the birth of the pilot. Peter Dutton saw the win-win of the program, it is a no brainer for all sides of politics."

The Australian companies TBB approached also saw the potential.

"This was literally the first time this had been done anywhere in the world. Now all of these companies have either hired or are in the final stages of issuing job offers with us," she says

Key to the success of the pilot was to demonstrate how different industries could participate, and that it worked to fill genuine skills gaps.

We want employers to get to the point where they are convinced 'this person is going to be great for my organization' and we say if you don't reach that point with any of our candidates please don't hire because the whole integrity of this program is that it's genuine skills gaps,
Cousins explains.

"Obviously there's a humanitarian aspect of it, but for us to scale and make it really work this has to be about skills."

John Holland: A success story

Ibrahim Awad participated in the TBB program and is now working as a Mechanical Engineer for John Holland Group in Melbourne.

Awad signed up to TBB's talent pool after he fled Syria and travelled to Jordan, where he was only able to work illegally.

John Holland Group had signed up to TBB's pilot to fill its biggest skills gap in mechanical engineering.

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Ibrahim Awad, Mechanical Engineer for John Holland Group


"For us it was a bit of a no-brainer, we had so many jobs there, we had shortages in some areas and literally four years of construction in front of us, so we knew that those shortages of skilled people was going to exacerbate, not magically appear," John Holland Group's General Manager Social Procurement & Inclusion Leigh Hardingham says.

John Holland Group offered Awad a position when he impressed them in his skype interview.

"I always remember we asked if he had any further questions and he asked when did we want him to start. We said "as soon as you can get here" and his response was, considering the fact this is under the table work he is doing in Jordan, "well I'm currently working on a project for a company and I'd really like to finish that before I leave so I really don't let them down"."

"That's loyalty you can't buy, there were nods across the table in the Boardroom that this was someone we really wanted to have working for us."


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