Work

London, United Kingdom

Building New Working Lives

Employability Forum

July 22, 2013

Building bridges between refugee professionals and employers

A paediatrician. A civil engineer who has spent a decade building roads and bridges.  A teacher who speaks three languages. All are accomplished and dedicated professionals, and all are refugees.

But for many, the search for work that uses their skills and experience ends in disappointment. Finding a good job requires confidence and an understanding of how the local labour market works, as well as employers who are receptive to the contribution they can make. And with the stakes made higher by hostile public debate about the impact of immigration on employment levels in the UK, refugees often find themselves up against a brick wall.

Enter the Employability Forum: a small, independent charity working on a series of innovative projects to improve the employment opportunities for refugees and migrants, primarily in London. At the heart of this work is a collaborative and multilateral approach, bringing together direct support to refugees, bridge-building with employers, and work at the policy level. The aim is to generate sustainable, long-term improvements in the employment options for refugees in London and across the UK.

Supporting refugees

Understanding the local job market is essential to finding employment in a new country, and some refugees find they need to retrain or obtain voluntary experience before they can secure work at their skill level. Employability Forum provides some direct services, including training and advice with individual refugees in London to help increase refugees’ confidence and understanding of the UK employment system.

Building on this expertise, Employability Forum is now bringing together an innovative online resource for those guiding refugees through the “transition” from state support to employment in the UK. “The idea is that the website will be a live online resource for people supporting refugees across the country looking to find employment. With a membership area, this will allow people to share information and build networks around the common goal: to support refugees to live independently in the UK,” says Director Beryl Randall.

Changing attitudes

Supporting refugees into employment would be unsustainable without increasing employers’ recognition of the skills that refugees can offer. Employability Forum has tested different ways of engaging with employers, working particularly closely with London schools to build mutual understanding by convening work placements for refugee teachers. Schools involved in the scheme regularly provide positive feedback about how having refugees in placements helps them to increase the understanding of diversity in the school. But the bigger sign of success is in the employment rate for refugee teachers following their work placements: in 2012 over 50% of refugee teachers involved in the project secured employment after their placement.

In order to develop attitudinal change among the employers of the future, Employability Forum also works to educate children about the reality of being a refugee. Randall describes the ”Refugees into Schools” project as “an amazing project I am incredibly proud to be part of. We supported refugees to share their own experiences of conflict, seeking asylum and building a new life with schoolchildren in over 100 London schools. Over 5,000 children engaged with the reality of what being a refugee means, and were encouraged to raise their questions with our volunteers on a one to one level. The schools reported back to us that there were significant attitudinal changes in the children as a result – this is the sort of impact that will help future refugees to be received with a better understanding of what they have been through and what they have to offer.”

Building strategic partnerships

Employability Forum also aims to build understanding among policy-makers about the benefits of supporting refugees into employment. It co-chairs the Refugee Integration Working Group with the Home Office, which brings together policy-makers from across government to ensure that policy development on employment and migrant integration issues considers current evidence from the voluntary sector and local authorities. Engaging with policy-makers also helps Employability Forum to understand the changing policy environment and reflect this in their work.

Employability Forum’s collaborative and multilateral approach means that it has developed a good reputation among the organizations and professional associations with which it has collaborated. It has even received some external coverage of its work in the national press.

Ultimately, bringing about long-term improvements takes time, but progress is being made. “We want to have an impact in the long-term. Our overarching goal is to see more effective integration of refugees in this country,” says Randall. “Helping people to get into work, to support themselves and have future opportunities ahead is a crucial part of that. We have a long way to go but we will get there, one step at a time.”


This Good Idea will be featured in “Marketplace of Good Ideas” at the 2014 Cities of Migration conference in Berlin. Learn more about the conference.


Making it Work for You:

  • Small is beautiful! If you are a small organization working with refugees then try to take advantage of this to be creative and innovative in project development in the way that your size allows.
  • Rather than working with only one group or from one perspective, can you foster mutual understanding between both refugees and outside communities and institutions?
  • Think about whether you can integrate a policy perspective in your work to ensure that it remains relevant to the mainstream political agenda as well as to the immediate concerns you are seeking to address.
  • Develop partnerships with other NGOs, professional associations and policy-makers – collaboration is often the key to making a lasting difference.

Maytree