New Zealand’s untapped talent pool

New Zealand’s untapped talent pool

(picture courtesy: Nando Azevedo Photography)

In New Zealand, we have a long list of skill shortages that need to be filled to ensure we’re meeting the needs of our growing population.
We need more farmers (beef and dairy), arborists and market gardeners. We need construction managers, university lecturers, mechanical engineers, midwifes and nurses. We need bakers, builders, bricklayers, carpenters, joiners, mechanics and aged care workers.

As Immigration NZ says, some skills are in chronically short supply.

When I read these lists I immediately think about the number of resettled Kiwis living in New Zealand who I have personally met who have these skills from their home countries. Some have years of experience and high levels of expertise.

And yet very few, if any at all, are working in their chosen professionals. Instead many are unemployed – or under-employed – as cleaners, Uber drivers, teacher aides. How many taxi drivers have you met with PhDs?

There is something fundamentally wrong when 30% of the people we welcome to New Zealand as refugees have professional skills and qualifications, have permanent residency and full work rights, and yet are unable to find suitable work.

Over the past 10 years we’ve welcomed 7,500 refugees, which means about 2,250 have tertiary credentials. These figures don’t include those who have gone on to gain New Zealand qualifications.

Yes, these newly resettled Kiwis may look different or sound different yet fundamentally they share the same desires we all have for a stable, peace life for themselves and their families. 

In the first week of August, HOST International welcomed acclaimed thinker and writer Philippe Legrain to New Zealand. Philippe, a Senior Visiting Fellow from the London School of Economics, presented his research which shows for every $1 spent welcoming refugees, an expected $2 return will be achieved in five years.
Philippe had a special message for employers: “By all means help refugees as part of your social responsibility, but also employ refugees because it’s good for your business. They’re likely to be hard-working, highly motivated workers and you will benefit from it.”

At HOST International, we’re rapidly adding skilled former refugees to our Refugee Talent online job platform so we can connect them with New Zealand employers looking to fill roles. This will also provide a level of visibility about what type of expertise is already available here.

I’d like to offer you a challenge. What can you personally do to help someone from a refugee background find suitable employment?

You can ask your company if they’ve considered employing candidates from a refugee background, particularly if you have skill shortages. You can offer a resettled Kiwi a paid internship, so they can gain their first NZ experience. You can get alongside people in your community or business, introduce them to your networks, take them to networking events, help them integrate and learn from those in their industries.

Let’s work together to bring this untapped talent pool into the light. Let’s bring their international expertise, multi-lingual skills and innovative perspective into our workplaces. These are core skills our organisations need in the global marketplace. It’s time we welcome diversity into the room.

- by Rochelle Stewart-Allen, who is New Zealand Manager for HOST International, a non-profit that exists to make life better for displaced people, refugees and the communities that host them on their journey. We do this by fostering humanity, hope and dignity for all people.

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