Getting refugees into employment was top of the agenda at the inaugural Refugee Employment Network (REN) conference at the end of January 2019. Forty five charities, organisations, local government departments and businesses came to share their experience of helping refugees find work and discussed how they could work together to help refugees get into the workplace wherever in the UK they may be resettled. Janice Lopatkin from World Jewish Relief took to the stage first to welcome everyone to the event and spoke about our history of helping refugees into work and the success of our STEP programme today.
Caroline Nokes MP, Minister of State for Immigration gave the opening address, speaking candidly about the refugees she has met since she began her role. She described how determined they have all been to support themselves and their families and the unique challenges they face getting into work. Speaking about the UK’s long history of giving people refuge, she praised the support being given to refugees by the array of different organisations in the room, recognising that the government couldn’t do it on its own. She spoke about the importance employment plays in successful integration, providing friendship, relationships and a support network and welcomed the Refugee Employment Network as an important partner that will champion new and innovative ways of getting refugees into work.
Participants took part in various sessions during the day designed to help them improve the service and advice they give to refugees seeking work. They shared ideas for best practice when it comes to advising refugees including writing a CV or application, interviews, work-experience, volunteering, training and entrepreneurship. Many of those present were employment managers, working 1-to-1 with refugees on developing these skills.
A major challenge for many of the organisations is engaging and developing relationships with employers and participants had the opportunity to hear from Victoria Ferguson, Head of International HR at Arcadis. She spoke about how they developed a traineeship programme for people with refugee status with the help of a local charity and how following the work experience they were able to offer employment to some of them. The experience had now only had an impact on the refugees but also on the organisation and especially those in HR who deal with the recruitment process. She mentioned that one of the hardest aspects of working with refugees was having a central organisation that could advise on the different charities and possible partnerships.
The Refugee Employment Network was established in 2018 to develop a community of organisations all offering employment programmes or assistance to refugees in the UK. Much of the support available to refugees has so far been offered in isolation and REN will enable them to share good practice, move the sector forward and develop relationships with more employers. The vision is to enable every refugee in the UK the ability to gain appropriate, fulfilling, paid employment or self-employment.
World Jewish Relief has been working with refugees in the UK since 2016 when we launched our Specialist Training and Employment Programme for Syrian refugees arriving in the UK as part of the VPRS (Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme). We work with partners in Bradford (Horton Housing Association), Coventry (Coventry City Council) and across West Yorkshire (Refugee Council) providing refugees with intensive English language classes and a personal employment manager who helps them gain the relevant qualifications and training with the aim of getting into work.
REN Participants: Action West London, Ashford Borough Council, Ashley Community Housing, Breaking Barriers, Business In The Community (BITC), Clear Project, Concept Training, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Coventry City Council, CREST, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Diocese of Canterbury, East Midlands Council, Greater London Authority, Groundwork London, Hackney London Borough Council, Hackney Works, Home Office, Horton Housing Association, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Learning and Work Institute, Manchester City Council, Max Impact, Migrants Resource Centre, Migration Yorkshire, Milestone Tweed, Archbishops Council, Nemiteas, Norfolk County Council, Refuaid, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, Renaisi, Restart, Social Finance UK, South East Strategic Partnership for Migration, South West Migration Partnership, The East of England LGA, The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN), The Learning Trust, The Rural Refugee Network, Transitions London, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Welsh Local Government Association and World Jewish Relief