Work and Welcome – an employment program that provides refugees and migrants with paid work experience funded through a workplace giving scheme.
Work & Welcome is an employment program that provides refugees and migrants with paid work experience funded through a workplace giving scheme, whereby regular donations from employee wages enable a refugee or migrant to be employed at their workplace — offering both work and welcome. Work & Welcome was founded by Brisbane’s Padua College teacher Mark Taylor in 1993 as a way to stand in solidarity with some of the most vulnerable in society. The program has focused on helping refugees and migrants since 2000. It has been run in partnership with the Multicultural Development Association (MDA) in Queensland since 2010.
There are currently 14 partner workplaces involved in the Work & Welcomeprogram in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Yeppoon and Sydney. Most of the participating workplaces are schools (13) but MDA is exploring ways of expanding the program to other types of workplaces. (The State Library of Queensland joined as a first non-school workplace in 2013). 68 people from a wide variety of cultural and vocational backgrounds have participated in the program since 2000.
Finding employment is vital for refugees and migrants as they settle into life in their new home country. Many new arrivals come to Australia with valuable qualifications, skills and experience, yet struggle to find employment as they lack a local work history and may have limited English.
Work & Welcome helps them overcome these barriers and is a valuablestep towards re-establishing a sense of hope, dignity and belonging. Work & Welcome also provides an opportunity for employees in a participating workplace to experience directly the positive effects of their own philanthropy; work alongside and mentor the very people whose lives their contributions are changing; and break down cultural barriers and stereotypes by broadening perspectives through direct cross-cultural experiences.
Work & Welcome offers refugees and migrants short-term paid work and an opportunity to gain local experience and develop the skills and confidence needed to find ongoing sustainable employment.
MDA nominates candidates, handles program administration, provides support to participants while they are engaged in the program and helps participants find work after they finish their placement with the host employer.
Work & Welcome is funded almost entirely through private voluntary donations made by staff at the participating workplace. Program contributions are deducted from the regular wages of staff and are donated to MDA. MDA is the formal employer of program participants (i.e., MDA pays their wages and oncosts).
Work & Welcome participants have performed a variety of duties at their host workplaces depending on their prior experience, skills and interests, as well as the host workplace’s needs and capacity to provide a supportive work environment. Previous program participants have performed a range of tasks, including: general administrative duties; working in the library; helping in the school’s café or tuck shop; assisting with in-class learning support; helping with maintenance and repair work; and IT support work
Participants are invited to prepare and make a PowerPoint presentation for staff and students about their background and experiences coming to and settling in Australia,encouraging two-way exchange and learning.
For program participants, a Work & Welcome placement means:
- Getting a first meaningful full-time job in a supportive Australian workplace;
- Having an opportunity to learn new skills and gain local work experience;
- Building confidence and self-esteem;
- Adapting to the Australian workplace and its culture in a supportive environment;
- Making connections, establishing friendships and developing networks;
- Transitioning into ongoing employment after the Work & Welcome
Since 2010, over 80 per cent of program participants have gained employment or are on track to completing further training or study.
One of the challenges of the program has been managing expectations and proactively addressing misconceptions. For example, misunderstandings within workplaces may arise based on perceptions of who a refugee or asylum seeker is, what different visas mean, where people come from, and what kind of journeys they may have made. While these misunderstandings can be underscored by good intentions, it requires ongoing support and communication between workplaces, participants and the support agency to ensure a positive experience for all.
Work & Welcome has been successfully run in schools where participants have the opportunity to try different types of work, but the challenge now is establishing the program and its potential in other types of workplaces (for example, where participants with skills and qualifications could be offered a targeted and supported introduction to an industry).
Advice for others
To run a successful Work & Welcome type program you need three partners: a workplace, an organisation to support the employment aspect of the program (i.e. with DGR status, insurance and capacity to employ participants) and access to target clients (e.g. a settlement or asylum seeker agency). MDA is keen to develop Work & Welcome further, explore partnerships and share the model. They are happy to be contacted by anyone interested in finding out more.
Ph: (07) 3337 5400 (Sebastian Ross-Hagebaum, Multicultural Development Association)