New Zealand’s untapped talent pool

Business plays a vital role in opening up opportunities to recognise and use the expertise and experience sitting within our refugee community. So how can business can make the necessary changes to ensure our resettled Kiwis get a fair go? By Rochelle Stewart-Allen

In New Zealand, we have a long list of skill shortages that need to be filled.
We need more engineers, accountants, IT professionals, scientists, teachers, lecturers, nurses and doctors.  We also need bakers, carpenters, bricklayers, electricians and mechanics.
As Immigration NZ says, “some skills are in chronically short supply.”
When I read the skill shortage lists, what immediately springs to mind is the number of resettled Kiwis who arrived in New Zealand at the end of their refugee journey.
Despite arriving in New Zealand without material resources, they bring a wealth of skills, expertise and qualifications from their home countries which match many of these skill shortage areas.
Approximately 30 percent of former refugees arrive in New Zealand with professional qualifications, and many go on to obtain degree and post-graduate qualifications. Yet very few are working in their chosen professions. Instead many are unemployed or under-employed.
Yes, some people who arrive here will do the jobs that locals prefer not to do, such as cleaning or aged care, fast growth areas in western countries.
However, are we fully utilising the expertise these newly resettled Kiwis have to offer? Are we allowing them to demonstrate their professional competency and enabling them to become fully functioning members of our workforce?
British economist and acclaimed thinker and writer, Philippe Legrain says no. Legrain visited New Zealand in August 2018, in partnership with HOST International NZ, to demonstrate the business case for employing former refugees.
His research with the Tent Foundation showed former refugees brought a boost in GDP to their new country and other, often uncounted, economic benefits such as a readiness to do jobs locals don’t want. This includes much-needed qualifications and skills, entrepreneurial innovation and a net contribution in tax.
The same opportunities could apply in New Zealand, says Legrain.
Former refugees contribute to New Zealand’s economy as workers across all skill levels. They are innovators, entrepreneurs, taxpayers, consumers and investors.
Highly-skilled professionals from a refugee background can provide different and complementary skills. They bring multilingual skills, diverse perspectives, and international mindsets to organisations, all vital skills in a global economy and important for  local organisations accessing international markets.
Business plays a vital role in opening opportunities to recognise and utilise the expertise and experience sitting within this untapped talent pool. How can you help make the necessary changes to ensure our resettled Kiwis get a fair go?
Taking a strengths-based approach to what a potential employee may offer is a stronger starting point rather than an initial perception about their points of difference.
Recruiters must look beyond the necessity for candidates to demonstrate local experience and qualifications. International experience is almost certainly transferable to our workplace, particularly those with diverse client bases.
The recognition of overseas qualifications needs to be streamlined and training offered, if necessary, to enable former refugees to acquire equivalent New Zealand credentials.
Resettled professionals have their tertiary qualifications recognised by the NZ Qualifications Authority and are issued evidence of this grading. For those whose qualifications aren’t recognised, skill matching of transferable skills is a relatively easy process.
If necessary, language training tailored to the workplace and skills development can be offered as part of job placement.
Former refugees have shown remarkable resilience, strength and adaptability just to arrive in New Zealand. These are skills easily transferable into the workplace.
Try someone out. Offer a short-term internship as a transition into ongoing employment.
You can get alongside people in your community or business, introduce them to your networks, help them integrate and learn from those in their industries.
Let’s work together to bring this untapped talent pool into the light.  

Rochelle Stewart-Allen is Host International NZ’s chief executive. Host is a not-for-profit organisation looking at solutions that improve the speed and effectiveness that new Kiwis settle and start rebuilding their lives.

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