Peter Shergold is almost halfway to his goal of finding 100 jobs for recently arrived refugees in the New South Wales public sector this year, as part of his special role co-ordinating the state government’s resettlement programs.
Shergold said various casual and permanent positions had been found for 40 refugees so far — not necessarily with a view to them all becoming career public servants, but more as a way to help them get “a foot in the door” of the Australian workforce more generally, while they improve their English and work to improve skills or get recognition for existing qualifications.
“The aim is to use the public service as a stepping stone into employment,” Shergold told The Mandarin yesterday, taking time out from an employment expo to support the plan that was hosted by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet and attended by representatives of 17 agencies.
Attendees were invited to ask questions of panels featuring staff from agencies that have made refugee-specific jobs available, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Planning and Environment, Fire and Rescue NSW and Transport NSW.
“Today, we’ve got 120 refugees here — and I’ve got to say, all highly educated, virtually none of them without a degree, most of them with professional skills, most of them with at least conversational levels of English,” Shergold said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
The 120 attendees were registered for the event and submitted their resumes in advance. Among them were pharmacists, engineers and IT experts, even a documentary film maker, an architect, and an interior designer.
Six of the 40 new public sector employees who have landed jobs through the program (pictured above) also answered questions and shared their first-hand experiences of coming into the Australian workforce. Shergold said some had already moved from casual to permanent positions, or from one department to another.
“All of them said their English had improved immeasurably from just being in the workplace,” he added. “And they were all very positive about the level of support they were getting, not just from HR managers, but from work colleagues as well.”
Setting aside the jobs required the public service commissioner Graeme Head to make a rule change last year, recognising refugees as a new kind of disadvantaged group for their first five years in the country. As Shergold told The Mandarin at the time, he felt his efforts to encourage big private sector employers and registered clubs to employ refugees would be far more successful if the government could say it was doing the same.
The 100 public sector jobs are for refugees who have been granted class XB visas and arrived after December 2015, when the Commonwealth bumped up the humanitarian intake by 12,000 places and the NSW government pledged the state would do more than its fair share to help settle the refugees. Shergold said NSW would have around 6000 new working-age residents this year as a result.
“We are about to launch a major new initiative in this area in the next couple of weeks, the Refugee Employment Support program, which is a general program to try and give case managed support to refugees to try and get them into employment,” he added.
The state government will also re-establish an office to deal with skills recognition within the Department of Industry, an issue that often prevents highly qualified migrants from finding work in their field, even in some cases where there are skills shortages.
The government has also agreed to provide refugees entry into TAFE courses up Certificate IV level free of charge.
“So the good news is that if you’re a department who takes on one of these people, you can be sure they’re still doing their English language training, [and] that if you recommend to them that they go and do a Cert III or Cert IV course at TAFE, that they can do so because it’s free,” Shergold said.
Top image: Peter Shergold (left of centre) with six refugees who have recently started working in the NSW public sector. Credit: Salty Dingo