Researchers at the University of Birmingham have developed a structured ‘pathway’ to help refugees and migrants gain and retain suitable employment in areas of skills shortage.

CURS, the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, carried out an in-depth analysis of the educational attainment and the employment needs of asylum seekers and refugees in this country. They found extremely high levels of unemployment and underemployment within the migrant population, despite around 50% of those surveyed having been in skilled or professional work in their native countries.

Researchers at CURS have developed an Employability Pathway model to help refugees into education, training or employment. The Pathways are bespoke, integrated packages that offer welfare and practical support, in addition to work experience or training. Investigators created a number of pilots in five different vocational areas: construction, general maintenance, social research, business administration and health care. For each separate discipline, a different method was used to select potential trainees and a bespoke Employability Pathway applied.

Dr Jenny Phillimore, co-researcher, explains: “For a number of reasons, the skills, qualifications and experience offered by migrants were not being recognised in the UK. There are several factors, such as time constraints and the eligibility criteria for Jobseekers Allowance, which thwart their attempts to secure employment, perpetuating a low pay/no pay cycle.

“The Pathway offers a comprehensive package to skilled refugees and migrants with training needs or trying to find permanent and suitable employment. We’ve taken existing courses and created integrated packages that are flexible and realistic. For example in the Construction Pathway, migrants got ‘on the job’ experience, but in addition received coaching towards a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme card,  mock interviews and a job match.”

The initial pilot programme of Employability Pathways has confirmed a number of key considerations for the make-up of the packages. Continued support for students by fellow students and specially placed mentors increased the students’ chance of succeeding and increased retention rates. Engagement with employers was vital. This included prioritising early on, education in UK organisational culture and continued support and guidance; giving constructive feedback on an individual’s performance and overcoming problems around lack of familiarity in the UK workplace; and celebrating and publicising success to help create positive images. Providing the right type and level of mentoring support was critical to developing trust. Critically, researchers found that where possible, groups should have similar levels of English or that there should be an in-built mechanism for reconciling with different levels.

The results speak for themselves. 13% of those who took the Employability Pathway gained permanent employment in a relevant skilled job as a result of the course. A further 31% also gained employment as a result of the training but the employment, although skilled, was not directly related to their area of expertise.  Others went into higher education or became self-employed.

Dr Phillimore says: “There is a significant issue of standards in migrant employment. We have identified significant skills gaps that can be filled. We need to provide trainees with help and guidance on how they can get their skills recognised and how to sell themselves. The Employability Pathways offer courses that have a focus on welfare and interpersonal skills which  improve the confidence and consequent employability of refugee groups.”

The pathways were piloted in the West Midlands.  The team who developed the approach hope the schemes can be rolled out to other groups.


Further media information

Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham tel 0121 414 2772.