Fighting the Barriers of Migrant Employment
25 February 2019 at 8:16 am
Tina Kuek is the founder of Kazi Victoria, an organisation helping people of migrant and refugee backgrounds navigate the job market and find meaningful employment. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Kuek followed a fairly normal path into employment. She went to university, did a master’s degree, and got a job in her chosen field of humanitarian and policy work.
As a case-worker helping refugees settle into life in Australia, she kept hearing the same story time and time again. People of refugee and migrant backgrounds, who were fully qualified and had experience in their field, were not able, or confident enough, to go for the job they were trained to do.
While Kuek is not an HR expert by any means – she is currently a senior policy officer at the state government of Victoria – she created Kazi Victoria as a way to connect migrant communities with people, job skills and opportunities that help not only the job seekers, but the fabric of Australia’s workforce.
In this week’s Changemaker, Kuek speaks about the importance of understanding different migrant experiences, how to manage a big workload, and small changes that make a big impact.
What inspired you to start Kazi Victoria?
I was doing a program with Leadership Victoria, and I’d met a number of people of African background. They had advanced qualifications – PhDs and master’s degrees – but all of them were working in areas that didn’t align with their qualifications or interests, or they were over-qualified for the jobs they were currently in.
I thought it was a coincidence at first, but we decided to do a study of a group of African migrants, and found a significant number had the same issue. There was one case of a man who’d graduated with a Bachelors of Commerce and Human Resources, but was now working in a warehouse. It’s getting hard for him to break into corporate, because how do you explain why you worked in a warehouse for that long? And it’s not like he’s not trying either.
When I started to try and understand the reason behind that, racial discrimination definitely came into it, but when I spoke to people they felt they had a lack of Australian networks, or had trouble understanding the recruitment system. Things like selection criteria or behavioural type questions aren’t that common in other countries, and it seemed to be really tripping people up when applying for jobs.
Racial discrimination is a big issue, but we thought developing a way to connect people with advice and resources, creating professional networks, and show them how the recruitment system here works, was a really practical way to help.
What changes have you seen in people since you started Kazi Victoria?
We are quite a new organisation, launching this year, but we’ve already had a free two-hour workshop, for anyone of a refugee or migrant background to attend, in collaboration with Hays Recruitment. They had two senior recruitment consultants come in and give a presentation. This particular workshop was focused on resume writing. I asked a few of my participants to show me their resume, and in some instances, while they had valuable experiences, the resumes were too long, the formatting wasn’t quite right, or there were things they missed because they didn’t think it was worth putting in there.
Before I started Kazi, I did quite a lot of one-on-one work with people, helping them shape their resumes and such. There was one woman I worked with who had a lot of public sector experience in Africa, but her resume was pages long, as she was trying to fit everything in. We worked together to cut that down, and she actually ended up getting a full time job in the NGO sector here in Australia. I’m not an HR expert but what I can do, because I am really entrenched in the professional sector here, is connect people, find links, and create a network to help people.
This workshop was also part of a series I’m running called How to Get Hired. Up next will be public speaking and preparing for interviews, and more will come up as I figure out where the needs are. The response and demand for it has really blown me away though.
What impact is this having not just on the job seekers, but also on the shape of Australia’s workforce?
Being employed should be about more than just having a job. You need to feel like you’re in an area you’re passionate about, you can progress, and have an interest in, so this would definitely improve health and wellbeing. Something I hear a lot in the community is the corporate, executive sector isn’t for them, and they are just grateful to be here and to have a job. But it’s an open market, and you should be able to feel confident enough to apply for any job you want.
The Australian economy would also benefit enormously. There was a study by Deloitte, that found the state of Queensland was losing $200 million because of the under-utilisation of skilled migrants. If we did a similar study in Victoria, I would say it would be even more because of the population difference. I think the Australian economy and people would be losing by not utilising these skills.
I met this Ugandan man for example, and he came to Australia on a skilled migrant visa. These people are trained and passionate, and as a business I would want to know that the person who is there, wants to be there, and has the skills and qualifications. Diversity can also only be a good thing, having people with different experiences brought together.
What does your day look like?
I’m actually a senior policy officer for the Victorian government as well, so I’m very busy. But I love it, and I love my job at Vic gov. Again I’m really passionate about what I do, and it’s what I studied, so I guess that’s why I’m really pushy about wanting the same for other people too.
I only really have time to work on Kazi after work and on weekends. A lot of it can be done online, I engage with clients that way, and I’m trying to organise more and more workshops ahead as possible. I try my best to have a good balance, so it doesn’t impact the quality of either job. I need to get better at managing my workload, and getting a break at some point.
How has the experience of working in this space changed you?
I’m starting to see and realise how different the migrant experience is for everyone.
I don’t think people realise how many different nationalities are within the continent. Ethiopian, Somali, Ugandan… and depending on how you arrived in Australia, you’re going to have a different experience as well.
Many did arrive as refugees because of conflict in their home country, and because of that, their experience and the challenges they face are going to be different. It’s just so important to not group everyone in as a whole, and anywhere from employment, to connecting to the community, the settlement journey will be quite different. It’s been really good for me to engage with these communities and people from different areas, understanding their experiences.