A quick search for stories of refugees leads you more often than not to news of crisis and trauma, and of bitter political disputes. The side of this story more often overlooked is the wealth of benefits that refugees can – and do – bring to the communities they live in.
For businesses, overlooking these benefits means overlooking a valuable opportunity. Gaining employment has obvious benefits for refugees, in terms of economic independence and quality of life, but it is also vital for the process of integration, through development of language skills and cultural understanding.
This positive social impact alone is a strong argument for businesses to hire refugees, but it is not the only aspect to consider. Though taking on a socially responsible role can demonstrate genuine value to the community, the business case for hiring refugees doesn’t end there.
An overlooked pool of talent
Contrary to negative stereotypes, refugees are often skilled, capable and resilient individuals, who hold qualifications and practical experience across various areas of work. Research published by Nuffield Foundation shows that nearly half of the refugees surveyed (45%) already held a qualification before coming to the UK, and the majority (65%) were either employed, self-employed or studying.
In many cases, these are people who have already been practicing successfully in their field of work in their home countries. It is easy to imagine that in this situation, most people would be eager to get back into work and continue to contribute to society. Indeed, research suggests that refugees tend to be motivated to integrate quickly, both by improving their English and gaining employment. With existing skills and experience, and the motivation to learn and succeed, refugees represent significant potential assets to businesses.
The benefits of workplace diversity
As well as bringing in new talent, hiring refugees introduces new ideas and perspectives that can enrich any workplace. The advantages of diversity have been well documented, from generating innovation, to increasing motivation, to attracting highly talented job applicants through to community representation.
Businesses with diverse workforces have seen increases in productivity, growth, and staff retention. In fact, according to research by McKinsey, ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to financially outperform the national industry median.
How can businesses use this opportunity?
To some extent, the issue of refugee employment may seem too complex and wide-ranging to be within the hands of businesses. Lack of available information has led to concerns regarding refugees’ length of stay in the UK, procedures involved in hiring, and relevance of qualifications. Many employers tend to imagine that refugee recruitment will be fraught with challenges and barriers, when in reality, anyone with refugee status is entitled to work in the UK.
It is true that there is progress to be made across a wider scale, but businesses themselves have the potential to make internal changes that will create significant, positive outcomes. So, how can your business take advantage of the skills that refugees have to offer?
- Change your hiring practices. Most standard methods of advertising job vacancies – through recruitment networks or online – do not tend to reach refugees. Co-operating with local employment services and other community groups increases the potential to reach those who would not otherwise find your vacancy. Additionally, consider the phrasing of job advertisements and whether it encourages applicants from diverse backgrounds.
- Recognise refugees’ qualifications. The equivalency between overseas qualifications and UK ones is not always obvious, but this information is available. The independent agency UK NARIC provides assessment of overseas qualifications and how they translate in the UK. Alternatively, you can find this information through professional bodies for specific industries.
- Focus on competencies, not qualifications. On the other hand, qualifications are not everything when it comes to recruiting; the capability to learn and perform well is what really counts. Using this approach can open your business up to competent employees, and maximises their potential. This is beneficial both for the sake of inclusivity, but also for creating a productive and motivated workforce.
- Consider internships, apprenticeships, work placements, or similar programmes. These are a good way to assess the competencies of a potential new employee and develop their skills according to your business. Instead of basing a permanent job offer on a CV and a 30-minute interview, these models of employment allow for a much better understanding between both parties, and provide the opportunity for more inclusive recruitment.