Untapping skills and talent through new internships for refugees

Source : Sydney Morning Herald

As a refugee from Syria looking for work in Australia, Nirary Dacho is neither illiterate nor innumerate. Armed with two university degrees, his only barrier to finding a job is his lack of local work experience.

After arriving in Australia a year ago, the 29-year-old, who has a Masters degree in web science and a bachelor degree in IT, applied for more than 100 jobs without success. He has more than eight years of experience in the field and is qualified to work with Microsoft and Cisco systems.

Anna Robson and Nirary Dacho, creators of the start-up Refugee Intern, aimed at finding work placement and internships for refugees. Photo: James Brickwood

Anna Robson and Nirary Dacho, creators of the start-up Refugee Intern, aimed at finding work placement and internships for refugees. Photo: James Brickwood

“The main barrier was local experience,” he said.

After he appeared on television last year, some businesses contacted him with offers of work. He has just started a three-month contract with technology company Dolby where is working in software development.

“The job is very interesting,” he said.

Now he is helping other refugees get the work experience they need to find employment.

Late last year, he met his now business partner Anna Robson in Liverpool at a hackathon, a community initiative to help refugees find employment solutions through software and hardware development.

They have established refugeeintern.com, a self-funded digital platform to connect skilled refugees with companies offering internships or traineeships.

Ms Robson said the initiative aimed to solve the problem of refugees struggling to get work experience in their new country.

“We are focused on the refugees already here and making connections for highly skilled refugees with companies,” Ms Robson said.

“This has benefit not only for the refugees but the broader community.”

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton recently said many refugees were not numerate or literate in their own language, “let alone English”.

He told Sky News that, under a Greens’ policy to increase Australia’s intake of refugees from 13,750 people to 50,000 a year, many would “languish” in unemployment queues and on Medicare.

“So there would be a huge cost,” he said.

Ms Robson said historically refugees had “made a huge contribution to Australia, from Frank Lowy to Richard Pratt”.

“The existence of our business will prove [Mr] Dutton wrong,” she said. “We will show Australia the skills and expertise of people who want to make Australia a successful economy, as waves of refugees have done in this country for generations.

“Who knows, we might have the next Frank Lowy. All they need is a fair go.”

Ms Robson said she had met many skilled refugees at the Nauru detention centre when she worked from 2014 and 2015 for the not-for-profit agency Save the Children.

She was aware that, despite being highly skilled and having years of work experience in their home countries, many refugees had struggled to find jobs in Australia because of a lack of work experience here.

“We now have 40 refugees on our platform,” she said. “We are meeting with companies to try to place the refugees into either internships or employment”.

The idea is to connect refugee job seekers to prospective employers through an algorithm that matches their skills and experience with employer needs. Ms Robson hopes this will give refugees crucial work experience to help them integrate into Australian society and make companies more diverse and inspire innovation.

“We have an under-utilised resource of refugee talent and they are not using their skills and experience,” Ms Robson said. “So we are connecting them up with companies that are looking for a more diverse workforce, fulfilling corporate social responsibility.

“We have just started and are reaching out to companies. The idea is to build it to a point where we have enough companies advertising on our website so we can just match them up.”

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