Dr Aparna Hebbani with community members filling out their surveys
Dr Aparna Hebbani with community members filling out their surveys

A recently completed  Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage project has uncovered a variety of factors leading to the underemployment of new refugee settlers in South East Queensland.

The three year study, led by CfCSC Associate Dr Aparna Hebbani, looked at the employment experiences and aspirations of refugee families.

Data collection involved a survey of 222 participants and face-to-face interviews with 47 refugee settlers originally from Burma, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The research found all participants aspired to gain fulfilling employment, but faced barriers such as limited English language skills, limited formal education, ill health and family carer responsibilities.

Project research assistant Mairead MacKinnon says employment barriers create negative flow on effects for new settlers.

“Employment is consistently found to be one of the major signs of integration, and if people are stuck at home, they are unable to interact and integrate with the local community,” she says.

Mairead says she hopes the research project leads to real policy changes and a boost to already successful initiatives, including the programs of industry partner Access Community Services.

“Access has many amazing programs, such as the Queensland Migrant Small Business Expo, English programs, apprenticeships, homework clubs, and our results show these programs are in high demand,” she says.

“Participants repeatedly expressed that their lack of English was hindering their employment opportunities, their relationships with their children, their hopes for the future, and relationships with their neighbours and workmates.

“We hope more English programs are implemented to better assist recently arrived refugees.”

Mairead also says the research encourages a multi-generational, community-based policy approach to addressing current employment challenges.

“One of the most important findings was that parents are very hopeful and optimistic about their children’s futures, and most parents said that what their child wanted to do was completely up to them,” she says.

“However, many participants had no idea about the Australian education system or pathways to obtain certain careers.

“Therefore, we believe schools and community groups should be helping and informing these parents so their children are able to be successful in their futures.”

Over the three year research period, Mairead says the research team valued the chance to get to know the diverse range of participants.

“We often met beautiful loving families who were recently arrived in Australia, and therefore were struggling to set up their lives,” she says.

“It was extremely humbling.”

The project, entitled Refugees’ employment aspirations and inter-generational communication about future occupational pathways, was a collaboration between the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technnology and RMIT University in Melbourne.

As well as Dr Aparna Hebbani and Mairead MacKinnon, the research team included Centre Associate Dr Levi ObijioforAssociate Professor Nigar KhawajaAssociate Professor Val Colic-Peisker and Emeritus Professor Cindy Gallois.

The project’s final report can be accessed for free here

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