I recently visited four Transitions’ candidates to talk about their experience of looking for work in the UK. Two were working on six month paid internships with LLDC and OPDC respectively, whilst two had successfully completed their internships with Arcadis and had been hired in permanent full time roles. Speaking with them revealed the barriers in the UK job market that are preventing these highly qualified professionals from being employed by UK companies, and how these hurdles can be dismantled.
All of the refugee professionals had experienced a lengthy and frustrating period of looking for work before they contacted Transitions. G, an HR director before coming to the UK, spent two and a half years looking for a job as an HR professional. He says that he was ‘always trying’ to find a job, taking courses to improve the standard of his written and spoken English. Despite these efforts, many of the candidates were hindered because they did not fully understand how the job market works in the UK. O, an engineer now working full time at Arcadis, describes how the job market in his country of origin was based on connections and word of mouth. Job opportunities would rarely be posted online, something that he had to adapt to in the UK. Transitions was able to help the candidates to improve their job seeking skills. They advised on identifying transferable skills, on engaging with professional bodies and NARIC, helped tailor their CVs to the UK job market, offered interview preparation and taught techniques for looking for jobs online. Crucially, it was Transitions who brokered the paid internships that gave all four candidates UK experience.
Another barrier that the candidates faced was awareness from employers that refugees have the right to work in the UK. O believes that this is one of the most important issues preventing employers from taking on skilled refugees. He says that he was regularly asked if he had the right to work, and he is ‘sure that they don’t know that refugees have the right to work in the UK.’
Transitions was able to work with the candidates to help them to face these hurdles and ultimately matched them with six month internships according to their skills and experience. G was offered an HR placement at OPDC, and he says that ‘Transitions was convinced that I could do the job that was offered by OPDC.’ Skilled work placements are a useful way to help candidates adapt to the UK workplace. Mujtaba, an architect with four years’ experience working for the UN in Afghanistan, described his work placement as a ‘golden time’ for refugees. It gave him time to familiarise himself with UK standards, having previously worked with US standards. It was also an opportunity to demonstrate that he is a fast learner, and he says that he worked very hard and regularly asked for advice to improve. For O, the six-month placement boosted his self-confidence, demonstrated his skills and resulted in a permanent position. Both Mujtaba and O accepted permanent well-paid positions at Arcadis when their placements finished.
All the candidates were keen to emphasize that they already had the skills and experience necessary to work in the UK in their respective professions. They simply needed the opportunity to gain UK orientation. On top of his overseas Degree and experience, O studied two Masters degrees in the UK and is a certified Prince2 Practitioner, so he was already prepared to work as an Engineering project manager in the UK. He says that he just needed time to adjust to the different standards and codes used in the UK: ‘it is just a matter of understanding, just to set your mind into the new standards.’ His area of specialism is HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) and whilst in his country of origin he focused mostly on air con, in the UK he spent some time getting used to working with heating. His experience in air conditioning has proved very useful as the VRF cooling system is currently being trialled as an alternative to the traditional boiler system of heating. O has been able to bring his expertise to this area. Similarly, B, an Iranian mechanical engineer on placement at LLDC in Stratford, notes that Iranian and UK standards are different, their foundations are the same. His placement gave him time to adjust. Overall, the candidates’ experiences were summarise by Mujtaba, who says ‘technically, I believe there is no gap. We use some of the same software, and I could familiarise myself with the rest.’
The main take-away from the interviews is that there is no skills gap preventing skilled refugees from working in the UK. All the candidates had the skills and years of experience needed to work in their respective industries, as well as being highly adaptable and determined individuals. The problems these candidates faced when looking for work were obstacles produced by the UK job market, such as a lack of understanding from UK employers of overseas experience, as well as the limited availability of internship schemes for skilled candidates. Working to break down these barriers will allow talented candidates to access jobs in the UK, benefitting employers and the individuals alike.
–Gabriela Sharp, Transitions Communications Intern, Summer 2018