Published: 17 Nov 2021  |  Category: Jobs & careers  |  Stage: We have welcomed a family

Designing a pathway into employment

Learn how to support refugees to design a path towards employment in the UK

Employment provides a fantastic route to integration, helps people to improve their language skills and social networks, and of course provides greater wellbeing and financial independence for individuals. However, refugees can face barriers to obtaining employment which you may need to help them overcome.

It is important that both you and the person you support are realistic about the time it may take to get into paid employment, what sort of roles will be achievable in the first instance, and what steps they need to take to make themselves employable.

You may need to manage expectations of both the person you support and your group members to avoid disappointment if finding work takes longer than anticipated. It is important that you help the person you support to focus on the progress they have made towards employment, such as obtaining voluntary work or learning English, and help maintain their motivation and self-respect.

How and when to start?

The initial months in a new country are difficult and confusing for everyone, so, unless you’re certain that the person you support is definitely ready, it may be best to wait to have any conversations about work after the first intensive couple of months has passed.

Once pressures of the initial weeks start to decrease, and the person you support is engaged in ESOL classes and is able to judge how easy or how difficult it is to learn, it may be time to think about the next steps. There is sometimes a tendency to wait until someone speaks English fluently before exploring any job or volunteering opportunities. In reality, initially volunteering or work may complement learning. Starting on the path to employment as early as possible will mean that your Group can offer support along this journey.

Remember that not everyone arriving in the UK will be ready to work in the short term, as some people may need time to recover and adjust to life in a new country, so always take the lead on the steps you take from the person you support. Here are some of the things to consider:

  • Find out what the person you support used to do and what they would like to do now that they are in the UK (those don’t have to be the same things!)
  • Identify their ultimate goal – the profession that the person would like to work in and the steps needed to get there
  • Be realistic – some professions – e.g. construction work, plumbing, electrical work require a certificate or a formal qualification from the UK. Unless the person you support is able to learn English very quickly, one of the regulated professions may not be the best entry onto the UK labour market as it may take years to get there and it’ll be easy to lose motivation along the way.
  • Encourage the person you support –  realising that going back to the job they had done for, sometimes, their whole life, may be very difficult to achieve can be really disappointing. Help the person you support to see how starting early and taking small steps to begin with, will help them eventually achieve their ultimate goal.
  • Be creative – It may feel that talking about employment to someone who is still struggling to communicate in day to day interactions may be a stretch. Remember that many people arriving to the UK don’t have a lot of experience in learning new skills in a school or college setting. Someone who attended school for only a couple of years and, perhaps, struggles to read and write in their own language is going to find it very difficult to learn a new language only through attending college, as throughout their life they’ve learned through practice rather than an academic approach. Looking for volunteering, work placement and paid work opportunities that someone can engage with alongside their ESOL classes may be a great way for them improve their English as well.
  • Develop a plan – break down their long term professional goal – working in a particular profession, starting their own business or perhaps going into higher education, into smaller steps that you and the person you support can start working on straight away.

Developing an employment plan

Once you’ve identified the end goal the person you support will be working towards, they are realistic about how long it will take to get there and ready to take their next steps. Here are some of the things to consider and include in the employment plan you develop:

  • Remember to allocate actions/steps in your plan to the person you support – not everything needs to be done by your Group. Having some actions allocated to the person you support and some to the Group will mean that everyone is accountable and you can track the progress as well as any potential blockages well.
  • Offer work-related ESOL – The person you support will need to engage with mainstream ESOL classes, which can be great, but also usually are quite general, focusing on conversations you may have in your day to day life, rather than vocabulary related to a particular profession. If you have ESOL teachers in your Group then perhaps they could build some of their classes around work related vocabulary or English with a specific purpose.  If you don’t have accredited ESOL teachers, you may suggest that one of the befrienders spends some time teaching a few new work related words each time they see the person your supports. One of our Experts by Experience – Mohammad tells us that finding what drives people to learn English is one of the best way to progress quickly!
  • Create a CV – for many refugees knocking on the doors of businesses to ask about potential vacancies is the preferred approach to looking for work online. Equipping the person you support with a printed copy of their CV will definitely increase the chances of this approach being successful.
  • Help someone look for volunteering or work placement opportunities that may be relevant. There will be some opportunities already available – you can find those on the website of local volunteer centre, doit website or through your local jobcentre. But you can also be creative about this – it may be worth reaching out to employers in the area to see if anyone would be prepared to offer a time-bound,  unpaid work placement to the person you support.  Although they may not be speaking English well enough to get a job through a ‘mainstream’ process, they may also have years of professional experience and be very willing to work – do make sure you mention this to any potential employer. In some cases the work placements may lead to paid employment, in others the person you support may decide that actually that particular profession in the UK is not for them, either way this will be something they can add to their CV. If the person you support isn’t sure about the benefits of volunteering, you can share with them a message written in English and in Arabic by Abdullah on benefits of volunteering and unpaid work placements.
  • Offer support to prepare for interviews.
  • Consider providing  an employment mentor or finding an organisation who could do that. If your Group decides to do this yourself remember to keep it time bound and goal oriented – it is best to decide from the start how long this relationship will last and its aim.
  • Remember that you’re not on your own. Get help from organisations in your area offering employment support and advice – your local Jobcentre should be able to tell you of any additional support available as well as offer some support themselves. The Refugee Employment Network is also a charity that connects refugees with job opportunities.
  • Especially if you’re looking for employment or even volunteering for someone whose English is limited consider supporting the potential employer as well as the refugee. This may be through providing an interpreter for the work induction and checking in with the employer from time to time to make sure there aren’t any concerns or misunderstandings.
  • If the person you support is interested in starting their own business read our resource developed by TERN, the leading provider of business support for refugee entrepreneurs in the UK to find steps you can take to support them onto entrepreneurship.

Potential challenges

We have already talked about some of the challenges – a language barrier, the need for qualifications for certain professions, here are some other challenges that you and the person you support may encounter along the way:

  • Impact of work on benefits. It may be a surprise how much benefits are reduced when someone starts to work. Before the person you support starts their first job make sure you help them understand how their benefits will be affected – Policy in Practice benefit calculator can help with that.
  • Informal work and exploitative employers. Make sure you support the individual to ensure that the employment they take on is legal and legitimate. Help them to understand some of the rights of employees such as holiday or sick pay. ACAS website is a great source of information on employee rights.

What’s next

Getting your first job in the UK is a massive achievement and a milestone to celebrate, so take time to do that! However, the work does not end there. Many migrants and refugees get stuck in jobs below their skills and qualifications, it is now time to make sure this does not happen to the person you support. Remind them that now they’ve taken the first step they need to continue plan and work towards their ultimate goal, whatever it is!

Further resources