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Refugees held back from reaching full potential in UK job market

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Language barriers, precarious work and discrimination are halting career advancement for refugees.

A new report by think tank IPPR has found highly skilled refugees have struggled to regain their careers since settling in the UK.

Making Strides  urged more support for people who want to re-start their former careers, including training courses and mentoring for refugees and people fleeing war and persecution.

One project in Sheffield has given refugees with nursing or clinical backgrounds a route into the NHS.

The ReStore project has helped eight refugees to qualify to work as nurses by offering English language and computing support, alongside the clinical skills training needed to pass exams that qualify candidates to become registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Adavanced nurse practitioner Blerta Ilazi, who part leads the course, said: “I have created a connection with all my students, which has allowed me to give trauma-informed care.

“We are flexible. If they have a bad day at home, they can join classes from home.

“When they leave for the hospitals, we make sure that trusts know that these nurses have been through a lot, so they should be aware of how they are communicated with, and any interviews have been arranged according to their needs.”


Read more: What it’s like to work in HR during the Ukrainian war


Victoria Short, CEO of Randstad UK, which has employed Ukrainian refugees, said language barriers are a problem.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Despite the fact that the women we work with have often had high-level, professional careers, they have faced barriers to entering our domestic labour market. While some might have been up against discrimination, a key issue can be the language barrier.”

Randstad employees act as mentors to provide one-to-one guidance and support to help refugees navigate the jobs market 

Short added: “Our support extended to reviewing CVs, looking over mentee’s cover letters, and helping them practise their interview skills, as well as networking. 

“Over the last four to six months, our mentors have been meeting them, either virtually or in-person.  In many cases, guidance has helped the mentees break down barriers to employment and advancement.”


Read more: Amazon, Hilton, and Kraft Heinz join commitment to hire 250,000 refugees


The report also called for greater support for smaller employers which offer opportunities to people who have settled in the UK and personalised job and career progression plans.

Kelly Dolphin, people and culture director at commercial cleaning company SBFM, which created the Evolve initiative to support workers from disadvantaged backgrounds, said: “HR can help refugees by collaborating with local businesses, schools, and colleges, to design training programmes tailored to refugees’ specific needs.

“This could include language proficiency courses, cultural integration workshops, and skills-building sessions that enhance professional capabilities. By investing in such initiatives, HR facilitates a smoother transition for refugees into the workforce.”

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