Could business bring brighter futures for people seeking refuge?
Written by Mohib Ullah, Language Officer at RefuAid
How I regained optimism at Learn to B: How business can create social change
Last week, I had the opportunity to join the panel at B Lab’s Learn to B event to discuss how businesses can welcome refugees. It was a privilege to share my experience and thoughts with a community of people that use business as a force for good. I can safely say that after attending the event, I have regained a sense of optimism that there is a brighter future if we all play our part. Today, I am writing to share my insights about how your business can help to change someone’s life, for good!
After getting my status in 2015, not everything was promising, particularly on the employment side. Everyone appreciates that it is hard to get your foot through the door, as I’m sure most of you know from your own experiences of landing your first formal job. Now imagine, a refugee, a foreigner with an ethnic-sounding name, a CV with no local job market experiences or UK references. All this can erase any chance of a call back from employers.
Fast forward to October 2016. Through a charity called Breaking Barriers, I managed to get my first formal part-time job at Wholegrain Digital and after two weeks, I accepted a full-time role.
The B Corp Assessment was one of my first tasks and in February 2017, Wholegrain received their B Corp status. I consider completing the Impact Assessment to be a personal milestone to date (I found it harder than my eight hour interview with a Home Office officer!). Last year, after 18 months at Wholegrain, I joined RefuAid, where I now support refugees and asylum seekers to access higher education and requalify in their professional fields.
While unemployment rates in the UK are reported to be at a record low, it is staggeringly high for refugees. Currently, 70% of 124,000 refugees are unemployed in the UK and the Refugee Support Network found that only 51 employers have refugee support programmes to hire refugees. Quite frankly, I find it astounding that such a big economy shows this level of disparity.
A major contributing factor to high unemployment is the lack of government support to initiate programmes that address the challenges faced by the refugee community. I have been lucky to meet some amazing volunteers and charities in the sector. I value and appreciate their generosity and hard work, but I also feel that the refugee community is left at the mercy of charities to help them build their lives again.
For anyone to integrate, the first step is to learn the language. However, government provision is minimal and the ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) programme can only help beginners learn up to an intermediate level. This doesn’t help those that need to learn advanced English to pursue higher education or professionals who need to demonstrate a proficient level of English to feel confident or requalify in their respective fields. Minimal support from the start can isolate you from activities that are pivotal in integration. Having overseas experience, no local connections, qualifications that are not recognisable and an employment gap on the CV can also stop potential candidates from getting a job. As a result, most of the untapped talent end up in survival jobs, a vicious cycle that makes it harder for them to reach their true potential.
Through my work, I’ve met refugee doctors, engineers and students (mainly from Syria) who were studying and had to leave education halfway through to seek refuge — all who have expressed the same concerns. At RefuAid, we have identified the different language exams such as IELTS and OET for professionals and prospective students. We partner with over 70 private schools and universities who have generously offered us between 1–4 full-time scholarships for our students to take professional English courses for universities and employment.
Language plays an integral part in integration and it is a two-way process which takes cooperation on both sides. By learning the language, refugees are playing their part to integrate. Successful integration is only possible if everyone makes a conscious effort to facilitate the transition.
Bringing brighter futures
Despite these challenges, I have seen that a shift is taking place for good and more businesses are coming forward to hire refugees. CSR teams are also taking the right initiatives by opening discussions to hire refugees. Today there are more charities working in the sector, supporting asylum seekers and refugees. This means there is an opportunity for charities and businesses to collaborate to make it easier for businesses to hire refugees.
I would encourage businesses to start by having a clear plan. Outline your need for hiring refugees; whether that is helping a social cause, requiring a specific skill or diversifying your workforce, your strategy will help you make a tailored programme for individuals. Your induction programme does not need to be completely exclusive for refugees, but create one that allows them to learn about different working environments. If you have an HR or CSR team, you can ensure the new staff member is supported so that you are prepared if issues arise. Remember, you could be potentially giving someone their first breakthrough, so ensure that the person feels supported throughout the employment.
Organisations like RefuAid, Breaking Barriers and Reset UK can connect you with refugees seeking employment. The common aim of these charities is to help refugees reach their full potential and support them in their journey to professional success, integration, and in making a positive contribution to our society.
Thank you to Mohib for his honest reflection and valued insights on how business can change lives. On the night, Mohib was joined by Monika Kruesmann, Director at RESET UK and Stephen Old, HR Business Partner at B Corp, Bates Wells.