Giving talent a chance

Helping those less fortunate than ourselves of course has a moral imperative.

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But beyond that, less fortunate emigrants bring us all real benefits.

"Given the chance is such an apt description for this program. These people have experience and education in their country of origin, but they were not being recognised by most Australian employers – this program helps break down that barrier.”

As an economist, there is plenty to say about migration. Migrants boost the workforce, bring skills and new ideas, and contribute to technological progress.

Some of the economic benefits of migration are particularly powerful given today’s staff shortages in Australia across all sectors and states. With the unemployment rate just 3.6 per cent, business leaders are grappling with how to attract and retain talented staff.

This is where a program like Given The Chance can be a pressure reliever.

Given The Chance is an initiative of the Brotherhood of St Laurence aimed at providing meaningful employment opportunities to refugees in Australia. ANZ has supported the program for 15 years and it has provided us with exceptional results in both hiring and retaining great people.

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GTC alumni panel at the ANZ Refugee Week and GTC 15-year anniversary celebration

As one example, the program attracted the attention of Danny O'Keeffe, who works in ANZ home loans operations within ANZ’s retail division. Danny heard about the program from a colleague and he soon discovered its potential when he was faced with recruiting challenges in his team last November.

“I handle talent acquisition for home loans operations. I was given the fairly extraordinary remit to hire about 300 staff to provide market leading customer service for home loans,” he said.

“All this is within a context of historically low unemployment. So how do you find the best people?”

Recognising the need to broaden his scope, Danny embarked on a mission to expand the field of potential candidates. And he managed to accomplish this feat despite an historically 50-year low unemployment rate.

Working with agency partners, Danny conducted 400 interviews with a 65 per cent success rate.

“This is a great result, but we wanted to try Given The Chance to see if we could get other suitable candidates,” he said.

Driven by his belief in Given The Chance’s noble cause, Danny decided to engage the program and it resulted in hiring fantastic people.

He interviewed 24 candidates from the program and was impressed by the calibre and qualifications of the group.

This resulted in 15 being hired. Another three were hired from the sister program “Chance for All” which is focussed on candidates with special abilities.

“Given the chance is such an apt description for this program. These people have experience and education in their country of origin, but they were not being recognised by most Australian employers – this program helps break down that barrier.”

Talented candidates included Hanna Allbrahim - who was hired as an ANZ assessment officer - but who had worked as the head of French linguistics at Damascus University, the oldest and largest university in Syria. 

“Hanna was pregnant with her first child while living in Syria. She walked into Lebanon to live in a refugee camp,” Danny said.

Ask any recruiter if they’d be happy with a 62 per cent success rate when the industry average suggests anything above 35 percent is a success and you’d get a yes.

“13 of the 18 people we recruited are now permanent ANZ employees. Of the others the experience at ANZ helped them to find a job in the sector at large,” Danny said.

Furthermore, he observed the time taken for accreditation and the attrition rate among Given The Chance employees was on par with, if not superior to, other employees.

Because of his overwhelmingly positive experience, Danny now integrates the program into ongoing recruitment. He considers it to be as valuable as any of his three other agency partners.

Another benefit of Given The Chance is providing hiring managers like Danny greater diversity in candidates while helping to avoid a “quick, cookie-cutter approach to recruitment”. Hiring managers should be inquisitive, ask pertinent questions and delve into the strengths and capabilities of all candidates.

It is through people like Danny engaging programs like Given The Chance amid a tight labour market that we can hire members of society who have traditionally been more marginalised.

This year, for instance, there has been a sweep of female labour market records in Australia: the highest participation rate, share of hours worked, share of full - time employment and lowest female unemployment rate.

There are more gains to be had in a market in which we have to look harder for good candidates. Immigrants, for instance, often struggle to have their qualifications appropriately recognised.

In the quest to unlock and retain talent, Given The Chance has emerged as a valuable solution to the challenges faced by business leaders. Its ability to empower refugees – while also enhancing organisational performance and culture – underscores its immense value to companies like ANZ.

It’s a great reminder that as the employment landscape evolves, hiring managers like Danny advocate for the need to embrace innovative approaches and recognise the untapped potential in those from diverse backgrounds.

Danny’s experience shows how considering immigrants has not only economic benefits but also brings larger cultural benefits to an organisation.

Try and imagine Melbourne without its great Italian and Greek communities. Sydney without its Chinese and Vietnamese. Adelaide without the Germans. No reisling! Immigrants bought Melbourne’s coffee culture.

At 30 per cent, Australia is second only to Luxemburg in the OECD when ranked by foreign born population as a share of the total. 48 per cent of Australians have at least one parent born overseas.

Hard to imagine. Because you can’t. Modern Australia is, at its heart, a country of immigrants. You can’t really separate one from the other.

Richard Yetsenga is ANZ Chief Economist and Executive Sponsor of ANZ’s Refugee & Asylum Seeker Support Committee.

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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