Challenges and Insights of Delivering Career Services to Migrants

05/05/2021

Naishadh Gadani is the founder of Your Career Down Under, a career coaching service supporting both new and established migrants in Australia. As someone who has overcome many challenges to succeed in a new life in Australia, his career path has equipped him to assist many professionals to overcome similar employment barriers. He is also currently the Program Leader at the Centre for Multicultural Youth.

A few years back on a cold wintery evening in Melbourne, I attended a job search seminar organised by Engineers Australia for newly arrived migrants. The experts delivered pep-talks on job search, interviews, and resumes including the contentious topic - ‘local experience’. I sensed the issue of local experience was looming large – like an elephant in the room.

One gentleman stood up and asked, “I am a Civil Engineer with more than 10 years of experience in construction and design. I diligently tailor my resume to each job ad. I am told that my qualifications are great, but I do not have local experience; hence my application will not be considered. Can you please explain if engineering principles operate differently in Australia vis-à-vis my erstwhile country?

He continued, “If Australian employers are overlooking my overseas experience, why did you give me the visa? It is pointless.” His frustration was very palpable. Everyone had the same question – how can I have local experience without a job? It is like a chicken and egg situation, which came first? The presenters attempted to answer; however, no one was happy with their responses.

Come back to 2021. A recent report – A Good Match: Optimising Australia’s permanent skilled migration - by the Committee for Economic Development in Australia outlines the challenges faced by skilled and professional migrants. CEDA analysis has found nearly one in four permanent skilled migrants – or around 23 per cent – in Australia are working in a job beneath their skill level. 

The above statistics is evident in our community and neighbourhood. I often remark that Melbourne has the most qualified taxi drivers and cleaners. A lot of them are accountants, IT specialists, and engineers. Shocking, isn’t it? 

When CDAA asked me to write a blog post on this issue, I decided to share some of the best practices and ways that will help career practitioners help migrants. 

  1. Unpack their career story: Most of the migrants bring very diverse experience – industry, roles, and culture. Helping them understand the impact of their work on organisations is an important first step. Coming from India, I have been told to stay humble and not brag about my achievements. Not necessarily every migrant, but a lot of them will struggle to articulate their impact and contributions. 

  2. Set a realistic time frame: Most of the migrants have consistently worked and never been unemployed before. Looking for work is a scary and foreign experience for them. My anecdotal evidence suggest that it takes approximately 3 to 4 months for a newly arrived migrant to find work in their vocation. 

  3. Where do I fit: One of my clients – an IT specialist – held diverse roles in India. He was a Project Manager, Scrum Master, Agile Coach and Product Manager. His strategy was to apply for all the jobs that matched those he had held previously. He applied for hundreds of jobs but only had a handful of interviews. He was shooting in the dark. When I suggested to focus on one or two roles maximum, he was kind of confused and anxious; he felt it reduced his chances of finding work. The strategy worked and he landed a job within 4 weeks. We need to help them understand what they are great at and what they enjoy. Their default position will be to apply for all the jobs. 

  4. Career detours are OK: They believe career is a linear journey with limited stops and lows. Lot of migrants bring with them 10 to 15 years of industry experience. They might have held senior roles and asking them to accept a role below their experience level is difficult. A few years back, I worked with a mechanical engineer who worked in TATA Automobiles as a manufacturing manager, he was a black belt in six sigma and worked in many countries. He was unable to secure even a single interview. He came across as overqualified for the jobs. On top of this, he was being pushed aside due to his lack of local experience. We decided to apply for a more junior role and revamped his resume. The resume now focused on skills and achievements rather than years of experience. It worked out and he soon landed a job with a manufacturing company.

  5. Ask them to volunteer: One of the questions that haunts migrants is, “Do you have local experience?” It is a catch 22 situation. How can they have a local experience without work? In a labour market where cultural fit is considered more important than technical fit, migrants can acquire Australian cultural understanding through volunteering. It exposes them to Australian work culture, business etiquette, and best practices. It also helps them expand their local network, build confidence, and secure references.   

  6. Network, network, and network: Most of the migrants have a social network but lack a professional network. When I arrived in Melbourne, I relied on my friends and extended family for support and guidance. However, I lacked a professional network – especially within the engineering vocation. Networking is a skill that most of the migrants lack. I advise my clients to become members of their professional associations – Engineers Australia, the Australian Computer Society, CPA, and more. It allows them to meet and network with people from their industry. A Civil Engineer who specialised in contract administration joined a professional association that represented his vocation. He volunteered his time for an event, where he met project managers of construction companies. One conversation led to another and he secured an interview in Sydney and within four weeks landed a job. 

But above all, they need hope and optimism. I am sure the above shared pointers are not new to you. I, however, wanted to reiterate the importance of them for migrants. Thank you for the opportunity. 

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