An employer’s guide to working with refugees

Refugee employeeThe Refugee and Migrant Services Advisory Council and the Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services have collaborated to produce ‘An Employers Guide to working with Refugees‘. Not only do businesses that employ refugees help to ensure the success of Australia’s settlement program but they also reap the benefits that come from a diverse and inclusive workforce.

‘Story Book’ Project

Employment plays a vital role in integrating refugees into the Australian community and is significant in assisting refugees to build a new life for themselves and their families. Having a job allows refugees and their families to become self-reliant and provides a sense of economic security and belonging.

Not only do businesses that employ refugees help to ensure the success of Australia’s settlement program but they also reap the benefits that come from a diverse and inclusive workforce. Besides demonstrating a commitment to corporate and social responsibility, employing refugees allows businesses to tap into a pool of motivated, skilled, resilient and adaptable employees.

Many businesses have already developed their own strategies to support refugee employment. The aim of this story book is to highlight some examples of businesses that have successfully engaged refugees; I hope that it may act as a roadmap for others.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to employing refugees, the range of businesses included in this story book shows that with the right commitment and investment there will be a strategy that will work for your business. That strategy could include direct employment or involve offering mentorships or internships, while providing valuable work experience opportunities.

Several examples from this guide are excerpted and provided below.

Download the full document, An employer’s guide to working with refugees (PDF, 2.9 Mb)

Hazeldene’s Chicken Farm

A poultry production business with a large and committed refugee workforce

‘Our refugee workers are such committed and loyal employees – they are a pleasure to have as part of our workforce’

Hazeldene’s is a family-owned vertically integrated regional poultry producing business in central Victoria. It does everything from farming to processing and distributing, and supplies both retail and wholesale markets with poultry.

Hazeldene’s has been employing refugees since the 1970’s and began a relationship with the Karen community in 2012. Now it employs 120 Karen and 20 Afghani refugees.

Refugees are largely employed as process workers, with a small number having moved into leadership roles.

‘The Karen refugees that were initially employed showed themselves to be good workers. We decided to take more on and have not regretted it’

Initially, a group of refugees approached Hazeldene’s for work. The business decided to employ refugees to fill vacant roles.

Hazeldene’s has continued to develop strong relationships with the Karen and Hazara communities – with religious leaders, community advocates, health groups and others. It is through these channels that refugees hear of Hazeldene’s and are attracted to the growing communities in the Bendigo region.

The refugees have proven to be a reliable and committed workforce that meets Hazeldene’s demand for staff. ‘We have a multicultural workforce, and the diversity provides a really good team spirit,’ says Hazeldene’s.

Small adjustments improve communication between refugees and the business

In the beginning, Hazeldene’s found communication could be a little challenging. The Karen workers were eager to please and follow instructions but, as a result, they rarely raised issues with supervisors.

Hazeldene’s developed strategies to overcome this. It organised small group meetings with Karen staff and managers. This provided an opportunity for the business and the staff to give each other feedback and talk about what was and was not working.

Hazeldene’s also considered the induction process carefully. When they start work with the company, refugee employees are paired with someone from a similar background, so they have someone they’re comfortable asking questions.

‘The refugees want to follow the policies and procedures, and with the mechanisms we put in place to improve communications they are willing to contribute and put forward ideas,’ says Hazeldene’s.

Hazeldene’s advice to businesses interested in employing refugees

Think about strategies you can employ to enhance communication with refugees who are not yet confident in English. Small group meetings with refugee staff and leaders have provided a platform to engage staff, give and receive feedback and build two-way loyalty.


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Recruiting, developing and retaining refugee talent within the workplace

Allianz’s corporate strategy: a commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce

Allianz Australia’s (Allianz) work with refugees stems from a formalised commitment to diversity and inclusion. Head of Social Impact, Charis Martin-Ross, explains that Allianz’s strategy is about ‘tapping into talent that allows us to deliver to our diverse customers.’

In partnership with Settlement Services International (SSI), Allianz has established two key programs to directly promote refugee employment outcomes: a Sustainable Employment Program and the ‘Allianz Ladder’ program. The company also sponsors the SSI Allianz Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to skilled refugees to help break down barriers to continuing work in their fields after arrival in Australia. The scholarship helps to fund the activities required to attain local recognition for their qualifications, such as bridging courses, which can otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

Each of the measures Allianz has introduced recognises that refugees have valuable skills and are a source of talent for Australian businesses but face barriers to accessing meaningful work in Australia.

Allianz is committed to creating sustainable opportunities

Allianz’s Sustainable Employment Program looks to recruit refugees into permanent positions. The program is demand driven and Allianz starts by identifying roles within the business – spanning accounting, data science and audit through to marketing and event management – that need filling and might be well suited to a refugee.

Settlement Services International’s helps identify and recruit refugees who can meet Allianz’s business need, and it is SSI’s familiarity with Allianz’s business that has ensured referrals are nearly always a good fit. Allianz has learned that it’s critical to identify roles that have structure and enough support for the role to be one a refugee can succeed in. Charis explains that where such roles are identified, SSI has always been able to help us fill them.

Allianz has created a ‘community of support’ for when refugees start. A buddy, team leader, general manager, sponsor and case manager (who liaises between the refugee and his or her team) are all focused on making the experience a rewarding one for both the refugee and for Allianz.

The ‘Allianz Ladder’ program is a career experience for young refugees looking for their first job in Australia. Participants engage with professionals in a corporate environment and are trained in design thinking principles to help shape innovative solutions, which they pitch to Allianz senior executives. The program has become yet another source of talent for Allianz. Working with refugees has contributed to a strong culture that Allianz staff are extremely proud of.

Charis sees Allianz’s refugee employment program as a core contributor to the business’s diversity and inclusion strategy as well as their positive workplace culture. Charis explains, ‘internal staff survey results prove the strategy is working and that Allianz’s culture is one that embraces diversity.’

Building a diverse workforce is part of Allianz’s commitment to reflect multicultural Australia. Diversity sends an important message to all staff – that they can be successful at Allianz regardless of their gender, religion, race, sexuality or any other factor unconnected with their work.

According to Charis, supporting refugees is something staff at Allianz are proud of – our staff ‘feel it’s an honour to help refugees rebuild their lives.’

Allianz’s advice to businesses interested in employing refugees

Ensure that you have organisational support from the top down. This will give your program credibility when approaching business areas for support and ensure the program is sustainable. Additionally, you need to acknowledge and prepare to support refugees’ steep learning curves, particularly in their first months when they are tackling everything from jargon and business language through to public transport and office etiquette. It’s vital to put in place clear strategies to help navigate this.

Advice to businesses on employing refugees

What kinds of opportunities could we open up in our business?

Businesses take different approaches to hiring refugees and it’s important to identify the approach that will work best for your organisation. The table below sets out some of the things your business may wish to consider to identify opportunities that are the best fit for both the business and the refugee.

The type of position

Is it work experience, a training opportunity, temporary work placement or a more formal position?

  • Work experience opportunities are great in small- to medium-sized businesses that have limited capacity to make more substantial changes to recruitment but want to give refugee job seekers an opportunity to gain Australian work experience and learn about local work culture and language.
  • Training opportunities and temporary work placements help refugees access pathways to a permanent job, either within the business or somewhere else. Creating such opportunities can be of relatively low cost to the business and allow real-life assessment of skill and capability.
  • You may identify refugees who meet the business needs and are ready to start as an employee. Consider adapting the business’s recruitment practices to enhance the chances of engaging a refugee through mainstream processes.

The skills or qualifications required

Does the business need people with recognised Australian qualifications, or could qualifications or experience gained elsewhere be sufficient?

  • Refugees with limited prior work experience are usually resilient, innovative and loyal workers who bring great value to some roles.
  • Business can engage refugees who have extensive relevant experience, often in the industry and/or supported by an overseas qualification.
  • Some organisations specialise in placing refugees who are highly skilled with qualifications that are recognised in Australia.

The English language proficiency needed

Does the refugee need to be highly proficient in English from day one, or can language learning be developed over their time with the business?

  • Refugees who are in the earlier stages of learning English can still be a good fit for some roles. Providing employment opportunities to such refugees can help them advance their language learning, including their grasp of industry-specific language. Businesses can make adjustments to ensure refugees with limited English thrive at work.
  • For some roles, a good grasp of English is required. Many refugees have excellent English language skills and will be able to confidently communicate at work from the outset.
  • You might also consider how a refugee’s first language may benefit your business. Some businesses gain a lot from refugees who can better communicate with their diverse range of customers.

Do refugees have rights to work in Australia?

Many of them do. To verify a refugee has a right to work in Australia, businesses can access a free online service called VEVO which checks visa statuses and conditions. VEVO can be accessed at If you engage a refugee through an established refugee employment program, program organisers will usually verify candidates have the requisite rights to work.

How do we get started and recruit refugees?

Traditional hiring practices often do not reach refugees. To hire refugees, businesses should try working with non-profits and specialist hiring agencies. Such organisations can help businesses find refugees that meet their needs. Many of the businesses showcased in this booklet started out by contacting an organisation linked in with the local refugee community.

The Australian Employers’ Guide to Hiring Refugees lists organisations across Australia that can help businesses connect with refugee job seekers.

What do we need to think about once we’ve recruited a refugee?

Success is best achieved when the employee and the team they will work in are both prepared for day one and supported thereafter. A mentor or buddy system, extra support during induction processes and pre- placement training to management and host teams are just some of the strategies businesses use. Many of the organisations that connect refugees and businesses also help prepare and support refugee employees and their teams. Further information about how to set refugees and teams up for success can be found in the information booklets linked below.

Where do we get more information or support?

A number of comprehensive guides provide more information, including:

A Guide for Employers: Supporting access to employment for people from a refugee or asylum seeking background

Australian Employers’ Guide to Hiring Refugees

Reaching out to an organisation connected with refugee job seekers, particularly one that runs an existing employment program (e.g. CareerSeekers), is also a good place to start.

Download the full document (source for this page, with additional story book tellings) An employer’s guide to working with refugees (PDF, 2.9 Mb)


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