VIDEO: the many rewards of giving refugees a chance

The economic case for the increased workplace participation from refugees and others from a diverse background is solid. When given the chance, refugees seize it and make the most of it - yet still encounter barriers to employment in Australia.

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Workplace programs like ANZ’s Given the Chance offer meaningful learning and development opportunities not just for the participant but for all parties involved.

"When we include refugees, we’re richer, we’re stronger and we’re more successful. We’re everything."
Bob Santamaria, Group General Counsel at ANZ

A great supporter of the program, our chief executive here at ANZ Shayne Elliott made specific mention of its benefits in his first visits to branches around Australia when appointed to the role. On being introduced to branch high performers, he began to see something.

“I noticed something was very consistent,” Elliott recently told an audience at ANZ during Refugee Week. “It was literally in every branch that I visited. All of [the highest performers] were new to Australia.”

“They were from the Given the Chance program. And that wasn’t a manipulated or manufactured experience for me – that was the view of the branch managers, saying ‘These are my best people’.”

At the Refugee Week event, a panel of industry experts discussed the issue with industry experts including Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO & Founder Kon Karapanagiotidis, Brotherhood of St Laurence Executive Director Tony Nicholson, ANZ Head of Customer Contact Centre Sales Danielle Curry and ANZ Inclusion Program Manager Alisha Fernando. Below is an edited transcript of that chat.  

We started by asking them about the impact of workplace programs for refugees.

Karapanagiotidis: There are no more resilient, resourceful entrepreneurial people than refugees. These are people who will cross the earth and part the sea to be free and to save their families. To taste what we take for granted every moment.

What refugees want is not charity. They simply seek that beautiful thing called opportunity. Upon being given it they’ll pay it forward 10 times further.

It’s more than just a job for them; it’s a new beginning; a foundation of hope for their family and for their generations to come. It’s something we should be proud of. 

When we include refugees, we’re richer, we’re stronger and we’re more successful. We’re everything.

The many rewards of giving refugees a chance

Santamaria: Tony, what have you seen to be the challenges refugees face when they’re seeking employment in Australia?

Nicholson:  What we see in the modern economy is it is increasingly focused on knowledge and service-based industries. The type of entry level jobs available years ago have gradually started to decline.

Employees in the areas of the economy where there is growth place a premium on education, skills and particularly experience. A lot of refugees have skills, they have education but they can’t get that experience.

That’s a huge challenge and that’s the origins of us developing Given the Chance. To work with employers and understand their needs and expectations and then preparing the jobseekers for that.  

Santamaria: Danielle, tells us about Given the Chance and your experience with it at ANZ.

Curry: The success of this program at ANZ is twofold. For the participants they experience this extraordinary ability to be immersed in Australian corporate culture. I think some of the things we’ve learned along the way around that are – what do we assume when someone starts at ANZ?

At the start of the program we would often invite participants to events and not many of them would show. We’d think ‘what have we done wrong?’

Later we realised the invitations to these events would be sent via email – and nowhere in our induction materials did we say you must check your email every day.

It’s taught us not to assume we understand the experiences of participants. They may not always grasp workplace norms but are still highly skilled in their areas of expertise.

Given the Chance is a partnership between the Brotherhood of St Lawrence and Australian corporations such as ANZ which helps refugees become involved in the workforce and encourages inclusiveness. The program offers mentoring, work placements, and training expand social networks and provide meaningful work experience.

First piloted at ANZ in April 2007, it started initially in what was then the consumer finance division and then rolled out to mortgages, call centres and the retail branch network. Over almost a decade the program has supported more than 100 candidates to undergo six-month work placements at ANZ and has offered permanent employment to a number of those participants.

Santamaria: Alisha, you run ANZ’s inclusion team. What made you want to be involved?   

Fernando: The short answer is because I am a refugee myself. And I say I am a refugee, not a former refugee, because I am proud to be one. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. It was a chance to be able to give back and to help in some way.

There’s been good and bad moments. I’ll start with the good. We’ve had amazing teams very open and supportive of the program which have made the effort to learn and understand the plight of refugees and made themselves aware of any cultural differences.

As for the bad – very early on in the program we naively placed someone from Afghanistan up in Shepparton in Victoria, assuming the Afghan community up there would support them – without providing any real introduction on our behalf.

We sent the poor girl up there on her own thinking the community would immediately embrace her, without realising there are certain customs and cultural differences we misunderstood.  Weeks, months went by and she felt completely isolated.

It was only by chance we found out we could do something about it – and we did. It goes back to, as Danielle mentioned, not making assumptions.

Karapanagiotidis: When groups like ANZ and the Brotherhood put their hand up and say ‘We’re going to champion this space’ it sends a profound message.

It says we stand by refugees because it’s a powerful humanitarian statement but also because it’s great for business. That is a really powerful thing when there is another narrative saying refugees are a burden, a threat and problem.

Ironically it’s that narrative which creates the problem. I’m proud to see companies taking that leadership and it reverberates at every level.

Nicholson: You know there are some very basic problems faced by refugees. One is they don’t have networks into the world of work. They don’t have that experience in the Australian work environment.

The Given the Chance program addresses both demand and supply side issues. It gives people the opportunity to gain experience in the mainstream workforce environment and it gets marvellous results for the workplace.

Seventy per cent of the people that have gone through the program go on to work permanently. Similar Commonwealth government programs have a success rate of just 30 per cent. We’re doing something right.

Bob Santamaria is Group General Counsel at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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