Mebrahtu A. Woldemariam, Marine Scientist

  • Current Job & Employer: Marine Science Researcher, freelance consultant with Blue Ventures Conservation
  • Origin: Eritrea

What were the issues keeping you out of work?

It is very hard to indicate specific issues as it could be for several reasons that work together in combination but a few examples are:

  • Lack of work experience in the UK.
  • Lack of understanding the UK job market.
  • Lack of understanding on part of employers that refugees could come with enough qualification to complete tasks appropriately and perform adequately.
  • Lack of proper support, particularly from the JC+. Many of staff members at JC+ are not skilled enough to help job seekers meet the main criteria set by employers. Their main duty seems only to ensure that jobseekers are making job searches with out consideration whether they are appropriate or not. In addition, many of the services do not cater for refugees, particularly refugees with qualifications from overseas.
  • Lack of integration between the services of the JC+ and other professional bodies trying to assist refugees.

What things made a difference?

Trying to avoid creating a gap in career by staying focused and positive made the main difference. The targeted and assertive approach Transitions follows helped me achieve this. In Transitions there is understanding of the needs of educated refugees that require specific supports both as refugees and job seekers as career professionals.

How is your career going now?

My career is progressing well and in the way I wanted it to be. It could have been better but I cannot complain too much. The good thing is that I am still in my field of profession and I haven’t had a gap in my career.

Biniam Haddish, Electrical and Electronic Engineer

  • Origin: Eritrea

What were the issues keeping you out of work?

  • An MSC helped: Initially, although I was an experienced Graduate overseas, I felt I needed to transfer my engineering skills to UK/EU specifications and learn some more, so I decided to take a UK MEng. I gained a First. My Eritrean Degree is seen as an HND by Naric and many employers.
  • UK Business Culture. In Eritrea it is not business practice to push yourself forward for a job. It is the norm not to! Graduates are allocated jobs in Eritrea and are not asked to present their hard and soft competencies. It took some time for me to acquire the understanding of what UK employers were looking for. I was playing the wrong game!
  • Very stressful Refugee situation. It is enormously difficult to be forced to move countries by persecution, lose your job and home. There is little assistance in the UK and I had to restart my life under a lot of stress. It is very hard to have to claim asylum, sort out housing, financial assistance, try not to succumb to depression – and try to find a professional job. Getting refugee status did not result in additional help to find a job. I had to struggle. Jobcentre Plus were not helpful at all - in fact the opposite. Many employers don’t understand what refugee status is. Most recruitment agencies want 3 years’ references – ideally UK references. Graduate employers want UCAS points.

What things made a difference?

Learning from experience how to job search effectively. I got better at jobsearch after a lot of false starts.

Transitions support When I came across Transitions on LinkedIn I started using their services. That definitely fast-tracked things. They invited me to apply to National Grid via their agency and provided workshops and 1-1 support to assist with that.

UK Engineering work experience: My internship at the time when I was doing my MSc really helped me to become more familiar with UK business culture. The engineering principles were quite similar to my existing experience.

How is your career going now?

Great. I have a well paid job with great CPD and prospects.

Anonymous, Project Engineer

  • Current Employer: Now employed in London by major US Engineering Company
  • Qualifications: Iranian Industrial Engineering Degree
  • Experience: 5 years’ Iranian experience, 6 months’ UK internship

What was the initial situation?

I was intensively looking for a planning engineering job in London and not getting interviews. I have an Engineering degree from Iran (2006) and 5 years’ experience in Iran working on major utilities and construction projects. In 2010 I registered with a lot of recruitment agencies and got nowhere. Either they promised me great things and came up with nothing or they told me that I didn’t have 3 years’ UK references and couldn't register with them. No employers interviewed me for a long time. My CV was good, though probably too long and wordy, looking back. In 2011 I registered with Transitions. They agreed with me that my CV itself wasn't a key problem, but that 2 things would help: UK work experience for orientation and a reference, and my written applications should be more closely targeted at the person specifications with better and clearer examples. I didn't know this before.

What was your work experience?

One day I decided to walk onto a building site and introduce myself as an engineer willing to volunteer in return for supervised experience with them. They liked my profile and took me on. They offered me great experience and training on Health and Safety, with a CSCS card. I was a supervised voluntary intern there for 6 months and at the same time continued intensively applying for jobs. The Jobcentre were expecting me to find a job as soon as possible and the pressure was quite difficult.

How did you find a job?

Through Transitions I got an interview with a major employer. I didn't get the job but it was great interview experience. The next interview I was less nervous and more familiar with the UK regulatory standards and UK cultural expectations at work - like not standing up when the boss comes in! Transitions helped me with several job applications and I gave myself a target date to find a job. Finally it all paid off and I succeeded in finding a planning engineering job with a major US company in London. In the interview I used a portfolio to back up what I was telling them with my certificates and written examples and photographs of my previous work.

Looking back?

I wish I had known what UK employers expect of job applicants more at the start. I wasted a lot of time making poorly presented job applications that I was unlikely to get anyway because I had no recent or UK references.

Looking forward?

My job is very pressured and difficult and I'm still finding my way but hopefully I'll be a Chartered Engineer in the next few years.

Any suggestions?

I would like to see UK engineering professional bodies assisting experienced refugee engineers to communicate with engineering employers better, for mutual benefit. As an experienced refugee engineer I really needed UK experience and orientation to find a job as an experienced engineer and struggled for a long time without that, even though I was already experienced and qualified. I was very professionally isolated. All the stress of finding a job was put on me, with no formal support from the engineering sector or from the Government.

Anonymous, Senior Telecommunications Engineer

  • Current Employer: Female Senior Telecommunication Engineer for Virgin Media
  • Origin: Middle East

What's your professional background?

I have 4 years’ experience in my country as a Graduate telecommunications engineer. I was forced by the war to flee for my life in 2008. I borrowed a lot of money and did a UK MSc in Telecommunications, which I finished in 2011 with a Distinction grade.

How is your career going now?

After such a huge struggle looking for a job for over a year, I finally got a senior telecommunications engineering job with Virgin Media just before the Olympics began, through a recruitment agency that Transitions put me in touch with and encouraged to put me forward.

What were the issues keeping you out of work?

A range of things:

  • I had no UK work experience or UK work references, though 3 years’ Iraqi experience.
  • No specific services for me from Jobcentre Plus. They appeared to blame me for not having a job.
  • I was unfamiliar with competency based selection systems. We don't use that system in my country and, having no UK experience, it felt as if it was designed to keep people some people out!
  • I was already in a state of distress and insecurity at having had to flee from my country for safety and leaving my family, home and job. Housing was always a problem. I felt very unsupported both emotionally and materially in the UK.
  • Overseas Degree. I had a UK MSc and an overseas Degree. But NARIC and some employers and professional bodies viewed my degree as less than the value of a UK Degree.
  • I wasn’t a Member of the IET professional body. I am now.
  • Recruitment agencies wouldn't register me. They wanted UK experience and didn’t understand my refugee status document.
  • Refugee status Many employers don't know that refugee status is a proper status, with permission to work. There is often no box for refugees to tick that applies to their status. Definitely this affected my competitiveness.

What things made a difference?

  • Transitions
  • Talking with decision makers

Brunel University: I persuaded Brunel University to over-ride the NARIC opinion and accept my academic and experiential knowledge to pursue a Mobile Telecommunications MSc.

Guest speaker: I also made a presentation myself as a guest speaker at a Transitions network meeting with colleagues from Jobcentre Plus, aimed at enhancing services by Jobcentre Plus to refugees. That gave me a voice and more confidence.

The IET: I contacted and joined the IET as a Member, as advised by Transitions.

I also participated in a Transitions advisory network meeting with NARIC and the IET professional body, a recruitment agency and National Grid where we discussed some of the miscommunications to happen between these organisations and refugee graduate candidates. it was good to have that opportunity to talk for myself to decision makers.

Effective presentation: I was initially approaching employers without referring specifically to the competences listed in the job they were advertising and not getting interviews.

I built up a portfolio of information about my experience, and about the telecoms sector and the UK graduate recruitment system then started to frame my written applications better, using the competency system. Through Transitions I was interviewed by a major national employer for a job on their graduate trainee programme and got interview practice.

Impartial Advocacy from Transitions. Initially the agency who were doing the Virgin Media recruiting didn't shortlist me. Transitions called them to request the reasons why. As a result, the consultant put me forward a couple of weeks later for another role. Transitions assisted me to prepare for the phone and face to face interview, building up my self confidence, my ability to articulate my strengths and reasons for applying to Virgin Media and my positive approach to the interview.

I got the interview with Virgin Media, who I now work for, by putting in a good written application, with assistance from Transitions, that highlighted and targetted my strengths for that job and motivations to work for them.

How are things going now?

I'm now on the road to rebuilding my career, which was interrupted by the events in my country and further interrupted by the lack of information advice and support in the UK as a jobsearching refugee professional, which was very stressful. I was deeply depressed at some points. Transitions enabled me to learn how to approach the graduate labour market system here, have a chance to challenge and inform the decision-makers, and finally to compete effectively for the great job that I now have.

Kibreab Kidane, Accountant & Auditor

  • Current Employer: Auditor for Credit Unit
  • Origin: Eritrea

What's your professional background?

I have 20 years’ senior experience in Eritrea as an Accountancy Manager and Auditor, including working for the British Council in Asmara, Eritrea as their senior Accountant for 5 years, from 2004-2009. The British Council paid for my UK MSc in Audit. I had to claim asylum from Eritrea in 2009 because of political persecution.

How is your career going now?

I have just accepted an internal audit job offer from a credit union, following an audit internship, through the Transitions recruitment agency.

What were the issues keeping you out of work?

  • I had no assistance, in fact I had constant pressure from Jobcentre Plus to find any job – with no UK work references and not knowing about the way that UK employers recruit. I wasn’t getting any interviews and didn't really know where to start.
  • I was expected to restart my career as soon as possible with no integration support from any statutory bodies. Employers don’t know what refugee status is, and don’t value my overseas experience.
  • I was very traumatised, being forced to claim asylum because of persecution and here without my family. Finding a place to live, trying to reunite my family and the stress of trying to find a job with no help in a strange country is not easy.

What things made a difference?

I found Transitions through a friend. Transitions listened to me professionally, and found me an audit internship in a credit union. Transitions set up the structure of the internship and monitored it carefully.

Transitions provided me with extensive, relevant 1-1 accountancy careers information and advice and brokered the consultancy that I now have with the credit union.

They invited me also to a range of targeted workshops. I was a guest speaker at a Transitions conference, talking about my experience as a refugee professional looking for work in the UK to employers and to Jobcentre Plus colleagues. That gave me confidence and a voice in the market.

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