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NSW government extends employment support program for refugees

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Refugees and people seeking asylum living in NSW will continue to have access to pathways to secure long-term employment thanks to the Refugee Employment Support Program (RESP) extension delivered by Settlement Services International (SSI) and partners.

The Hon. Alister Henskens, NSW Minister for Skills and Training and Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology, announced last week during a visit to SSI’s Liverpool office that the five-year pilot program had been extended by 18 months until December 2023.

In five years, RESP has assisted up to 8,000 refugees and 2,000 people seeking asylum in western Sydney and the Illawarra, where most refugees have settled in NSW.

The program’s impact has been significant, with sustainable employment secured for almost 30% of participants, exceeding the national figure of 17% of refugees in paid employment after 18 months in Australia. For successful RESP participants, it takes on average six-and-a-half months to secure a job.

The successful employment outcomes are due to RESP’s unique service model, which acknowledges that humanitarian migrants are not a homogenous group but have varying levels of education and skills.

The program is designed to counteract “occupational skidding” — a phenomenon whereby refugees cannot find work that matches their skills and qualifications — by avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” approach and developing custom-built employment pathways designed for the long term.

Participants work with multicultural employment specialists who can provide tailored support based on the participant’s skills, experience and goals.

Some individuals may arrive with more significant barriers and require a longer employment pathway journey and more supports.

RESP enabled Saif Noori, a refugee from Iraq, to re-establish his career in medicine.

Although having a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery and four years working in Al-Iman Ali Hospital in Baghdad, Mr Noori, who came to Australia alone, needed to get his qualifications recognised and pass an English test.

With two years of hard study, and the support of his RESP employment facilitator, Mr Noori completed the Australian Medical Council exams, occupational English test exam, and his AHPRA registration. He is now an Emergency Resident Medical Officer at Royal Hobart Hospital.

RESP also provided financial support and educational courses that helped him pass the exams and get his driver’s licence.

The strength of RESP also lies in its focus on delivering community-based solutions through a partnership of local employers, the community sector, state government agencies, and other non-government organisations to connect those with eligible training, support and jobs.

The program is valuable for participants and employers alike, helping to fill skills shortages faced by industries such as construction, health and customer service.

Joudy Lazkany, SSI’s Head of Employment Services, said, “RESP has been instrumental in featuring employment as an integrated part of the whole settlement journey and has provided necessary relief to the challenges faced by humanitarian migrants who are already susceptible to unemployment and underemployment on arrival to Australia.

“The extension of the RESP program highlights that cross-sector collaboration and tailored, community-based employment supports lead to better long-term outcomes for all – humanitarian migrants, businesses, and the Australian economy.

“We thank the NSW Department of Education, NSW Coordinator General for Refugee Resettlement Professor Peter Shergold, and our SSI employment services team and partners for their hard work over the last five years that has led to this extension.”

From July 2022, RESP will extend its support to people living outside western Sydney and the Illawarra if they can be reasonably serviced by a provider.

Visit SSI’s website to learn more about the Refugee Employment Support Program.

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