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Barriers to employment for refugees seeking work in the Australian construction industry: an exploratory study

Martin Loosemore (School of Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Suhair Z. Alkilani (Project Management, Asia Pacific International College, North Sydney, Australia)
Ahmed W.A. Hammad (School of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 18 March 2021

Issue publication date: 8 March 2022

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Abstract

Purpose

In Australia, as in many other countries, refugees are over-represented in the ranks of the unemployed, under-employed and precariously employed and often become frustrated in their attempts to secure work. Despite the construction industry being a major potential source of employment for refugees, there has been a surprising lack of research into their experiences of securing work in the industry. Addressing this gap and also the general lack of voice for refugees in construction research, the aim of this paper is to explore the barriers refugees face in securing employment in the construction industry.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper reports a survey of refugees who have worked or attempted to seek work in the Australian construction industry.

Findings

Results show that the main barriers to securing employment in construction are: lack of local work experience; employer discrimination; employer failure to recognise previous qualifications, skills and experience and employers not understanding the challenges they face. Government employment agencies and systems are also perceived to be of limited value and overly complex, in contrast to the activities of not-for-profit support agencies.

Research limitations/implications

While the research is limited to Australia, the findings contribute an important and missing refugee dimension to the emerging body of research on construction social procurement. They also contribute unique sector-specific insights into the broader debate about refugee resettlement and employment. Further research is needed in other national contexts.

Practical implications

Recommendations are made to address the barriers to employment identified including: initiatives to provide refugees with work experience in the industry; education to break-down negative stereotypes of refugees among employers; greater support for not-for-profits supporting refugees and reform of government and employment agency systems and procedures.

Social implications

By enhancing understanding of the barriers to employment for refugees in construction and proposing solutions to reduce those barriers, this research contributes new insights into a growing global challenge of how we better integrate growing numbers of refugees into harmonious and prosperous societies.

Originality/value

The findings are important in facilitating the smoother integration of refugees into society. Beyond the moral imperative, there are significant social, cultural and economic benefits which successful refugee integration brings to host countries and industries like construction which in many countries are now being required to employ refugees in their workforce as a condition of public sector contracts.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Metro Assist, Multiplex Construction and CareerSeekers in this research.

Citation

Loosemore, M., Alkilani, S.Z. and Hammad, A.W.A. (2022), "Barriers to employment for refugees seeking work in the Australian construction industry: an exploratory study", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 619-642. https://doi.org/10.1108/ECAM-08-2020-0664

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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