The Story of a Refugee

Amena Bahrami

My name is Amena Bahrami and I am a 31 year old Afghan.

I was born in Iran and lived there until I was 13 years old. My family and I moved back to Afghanistan where I lived there from the age of 13 until 30. I finished my secondary school and completed my Economic Degree with a major in accounts and management. I was lucky to get a job straight after I finished my studies at Medica, at an organisation that worked to support and empower women by dealing with issues around psychosocial behaviour, domestic violence, and human rights.

My favourite part of the job was working in finance and administration. To have this role, a person needed to be honest and truthful and I was the right person for the job because I do not tolerate lies and manipulation, especially fraud. That is why I had to leave this job because I found out that there was fraud occurring in the organisation, especially the high levels of the workplace. I had to leave because I didn’t have enough power to change what was happening there. I ended up getting another job in banking, where I started as a customer services representative, then a business development officer and finally was promoted to customer service officer.

On 25 July 2021, I got a job with an organisation called Skateistan. My job was to report all finance issues to the main office. They didn’t have a finance person before, so I found myself doing finance management and administration tasks. I worked well with my manager, who is also now living in Australia, in Melbourne.

We were meant to move into a bigger office because the organisation was getting bigger but unfortunately on the 16 August 2021, Afghanistan fell. The Taliban had hit.

I can’t forget that day, as I speak now, I can still remember everything.

My heart is broken, my mind is confused. I am sorry. 

On that day we were at work. Straight away, our main office told us to escape. We needed to pack up all the laptops, documents and money in the safe. My manager told us that the Taliban would try to take over all the Non-Government Organisations, so we had to leave. That same day, my manager and three other female colleagues got picked up by my manager’s husband and a male driver to start our escape journey.

We started to make our way to Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, but were stopped midway by the Taliban. They stopped us and that was a very scary moment in my life, I feared for my life because the Taliban have very bad ideologies, especially towards woman. Before the fall of the republic government, women were able to access all facilities and services. That day of the takeover, I call it the darkest day of my life because I, and all the women of Afghanistan, knew that our dreams and ambitions were shattered. When the Taliban stopped the car, we didn’t know what would happen to us. As they spoke to my manager’s husband and the driver, we four ladies escaped at the back of the car.

We came back later to find that they had given a very serious warning to the driver, by using a knife to mark the driver’s arm. That night we had to rest at a small village but later continued our journey and finally managed to arrive safely to Kabul. Not once could I contact my family because I did not have any credit on my phone.  I finally called my family when we got to the airport because I wanted to tell them what had happened. I used this time to tell them to come to the capital so we could flee Afghanistan together. It took three days for our visas to be processed and approved. When I spoke to my family again, they had made it into Kabul but because the bomb dropped near the border, they were not able to access the airport because hundreds of people were all trying to escape. My manager, my colleagues and I had no choice but to leave. We left with nothing just the clothes on our bodies. We couldn’t say goodbye, we just left.

When I arrived in Australia, I was warmly welcomed, and this made me happy because I knew I was now in a place where I could see a bright future for myself. Even though here everything is different from my country, I believe I can adapt to all the conditions and be resilient. I am very interested in improving my life and being active in the community. I completed my Certificate 3 in English and now want to improve my English language and communication skills. That is why with some valuable help, I applied to volunteer at the City of Stirling and I was luckily accepted. Now I am a volunteering at City of Stirling’s Kaleidoscope Initiative, and I am very happy to be here. I am looking for a paid job so that I can pay for my driving lessons and accommodation. I also hope if I can get a job, it will help me start my Certificate 4 in English. I have experience in banking back in Afghanistan, but I understand that I need to build my experience here in Australia too. I am hopeful that an opportunity will come for this too.

This is my story.

If you would like to contact Amena regarding a potential employment opportunity please reach out to us at kaleidoscope@stirling.wa.gov.au or call (08) 9205 8368.

Job readiness workshop helps Susan return to her passion

The Kaleidoscope Migrant Women’s Job Readiness Workshop is a free workshop series designed to boost the employability skills of migrant women across WA.

Susan Nkechi Anopueme is a successful graduate of the program and has recently secured a role in education – the field she loves.

In 2009, Susan left her home country of Nigeria and a career as a school teacher to start a new life in Western Australia.

When she began searching for a job she encountered a lot of inaccurate information about working in Australia.

She was led to believe that as a migrant it would be very difficult to find a job, especially as she had completed her training overseas.

“I was told that my degree would not matter. I was so concerned that in 2011 I retrained in community development, a field that I found interesting but challenging and very different from school teaching,” she said.

“I even thought I may have to change my name, as I was told it would deter employers.”

Frustrated and confused, Susan began searching for a more reliable source of career information and training, which she found in Kaleidoscope’s Migrant Women’s Job Readiness Workshop.

“The Job Readiness Workshop opened my eyes to the truth and gave me a lot of practical information, like how to format and write a resume.”

Before completing the workshop, numerous unsuccessful job applications and interviews had left Susan doubting her abilities.

“The program gave me confidence in my knowledge and skills. It helped me prepare for job interviews and not give up before I even gave myself a chance.”

Today living in Aveley, Susan is working as a Technical Assistant in Home Economics at a local secondary school – the field she originally trained in and describes as her passion. “I thought I would have to leave the work I love behind, but thanks to the program I’ve found a job that I really enjoy.” Far beyond her days of failed interviews, Susan is now thinking how she can move forward and progress her career aspirations.

“I’m considering my options, perhaps completing a masters in education or even progressing my community development knowledge.”

When asked if she would recommend the Job Readiness Workshop to other migrant women, Susan replied “100 per cent. I’d take the workshop again to refresh my skills if I could!”

“There are a lot of challenges that come with being a migrant skilled worker, but do not give up because we have so much to offer.”

To register for a Migrant Women’s Job Readiness workshop please select from the following:

Bentley – 9 to 13 May

Midland – 27 June to 1 July

Kaleidoscope Migrant Women’s Job Readiness workshops are funded by Lotterywest, delivered by the Kaleidoscope Initiative and hosted in the City of Canning, City of Stirling and the City of Swan

Great advice for all KMP mentees

We asked Simone, one of our past mentees what advice she would give to a new mentee starting the Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program?

“Do all the activities recommended, take this program seriously, be proactive and catch up with your mentor as much as you can and ask questions! Take advantage of every single piece of advice and suggestion given by them. And the most important (my Mentor said this to me on the day of my interview) be yourself, you are amazing!” 

Simone is an accounting professional from Brazil. She moved to Australia more than five years ago and had been struggling to secure a job in her profession in Australia. In 2021, Simone completed the Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program and within a few months of graduating she had secured her first professional job in Australia. Simone’s mentor recommended her to some of her former colleagues and this helped Simone to secure her new position as an External Auditor at one of WA’s largest full-service accounting firms.  

We asked Simone to tell us about her employment journey, including some of the challenges she faced finding work in Australia and the key benefits she got out of the Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program. 

“When I moved to Australia, I found searching for work very challenging.  I’m not an Australian Citizen and I don’t have permanent residency, I also lacked confidence because I did not have work experience in my field in Australia.  

Being a participant in the Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program increased my confidence and taught me to be myself. I learnt how to write a resume and cover letter; how to search for jobs and even the correct search words to use to find suitable job advertisements.  

I really enjoyed meeting with other mentees and sharing our experiences. I loved every single meeting with my mentor and all the support and constructive suggestions she gave to me!  

Through the program I discovered that Australians have a more flexible way of working, for example, casual Fridays. I learnt the importance of follow-up emails or calls after applying for a job or having an interview. I didn’t do this before! The program also enabled me to meet my mentor and other mentors from my field. I had the opportunity to hear about their experience and advice.” 

The Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program helps skilled professional newcomers improve their employment potential by matching them with mentors from their industry or occupation. The program assists newcomers to build professional networks and increase knowledge of both recruitment practices and a better understanding of their profession locally. For more information about the program visit www.kaleidoscopeinitiative.com.au/mentoring-program.

What will your organisation commit to learning about inclusion this year?

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) states, “Now more than ever, learning about inclusion and building your intercultural competencies should be a part of learning and development plans, at the individual, team and organizational level.” The Diversity Council Australia (DCA) reports that, “Australian organisations have been missing out on important business opportunities by failing to effectively measure the degree and breadth of culturally diverse talent in their leadership team, workforce, customer base, and labour market pool.”

If you’re keen to commit to learning about inclusion this year, the below resources from DCA and TRIEC will get you off to a great start!

The Diversity Council Australia and the University of Sydney Business School has developed a standardised approach for defining, measuring, and reporting on workforce cultural diversity in a respectful, accurate and inclusive way. *Counting Culture: Towards A Standardised Approach to Measuring and Reporting on Workforce Cultural Diversity in Australia, guides businesses through how best to count cultural background, language, religion – and even global experience – for maximum organisational benefit. The full article and research paper is available here.

TRIEC has developed two new resources the Inclusive Workplace Competencies Framework and the Inclusive Practices Index to help organisations evaluate and assess where they sit on their inclusion journey and to identify gaps in knowledge and understanding about inclusion. More information about these resources is available here.

TRIEC is an industry leader addressing the persistent problem of immigrant underemployment. Kaleidoscope’s Mentoring Program has been developed in collaboration with TRIEC and they continue to be an important learning resource and role model for us.

Citation: *Diversity Council Australia/University of Sydney Business School (R. D’Almada- Remedios, D. Groutsis, A. Kaabel, and J. O’Leary) Counting Culture: Towards a Standardised Approach to Measuring and Reporting on Workforce Cultural Diversity in Australia, Sydney, Diversity Council Australia, 2021.

Kaleidoscope’s programs boost confidence and resilience

Vani, a migrant from India with a background in architecture and urban design, shares her story with us, acknowledging the important role KI’s programs played in boosting her confidence and resilience when faced with challenging circumstances.

After spending six months apart from her husband due to the Covid pandemic, Vani finally managed to reunite with her husband in Australia. An undergraduate degree in architecture and a master’s degree in urban design, combined with five years of professional experience made Vani feel confident that she could crack the Australian job market. However, after countless job applications and one unsuccessful phone interview, Vani’s optimism began to fade.

Despite the sense of fatigue, she felt after a long stint of unsuccessful applications, she continued to show initiative, volunteering at her local neighborhood community group as a placemaking officer. This enabled her to network with like-minded individuals and learn how she could improve her local employability. From those discussions, Vani was directed to the Kaleidoscope Mentorship Program – a program that seeks to connect professional newcomers with mentors within their field. Vani registered and attended the program’s three-day job readiness workshop. There, she learned how to adapt her resume to the format preferred by Australian employers and to tailor it to the selection criteria advertised in the positions. This workshop was incredibly empowering for her as she felt a sense of comradery among other migrants experiencing similar struggles in their professional endeavors.

She also attended a mock interview session, co-hosted by Kaleidoscope and Deloitte Australia. This exercise gave her some exposure on what to expect during a job interview in Australia, teaching her how to best promote her experiences, skills and character.  

Through Kaleidoscope Initiative’s programs, Vani had access to the resources and training that gave her a better understanding of how to stand out in the job market. Subsequently, not long after attending these workshops, Vani managed to secure a job interview and was successfully selected as a Placemaking Officer at a local council. Vani, now happily employed, reflects on her experience at Kaleidoscope and acknowledges the important role the programs played in boosting her confidence and resilience when faced with challenging circumstances.

The KALEIDOSCOPE Initiative is all about harnessing the economic benefits of migration by supporting newcomers to obtain employment in their field of expertise and building the capacity of employers to secure the rewards of a diverse workforce.

Are we really in the middle of a “war for talent”?

In a recent article ‘Are we really in the middle of a “war for talent”?’ published by TRIEC (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council), Adwoa Buahene questions whether there is really a scarcity of suitable workers or is it that the systemic barriers in recruitment practices mean we overlook suitable candidates?

While the decline in employment following the onset of COVID-19 was sharp, the Australian labour market has rebounded quickly and the National Skills Commission has found that all states are experiencing high skills shortages in the Australia. Infrastructure Australia estimates that by 2023, demand for labour and skills will be 48% higher than supply, three times higher than shortages experienced in 2017-2018.

The WA August 2021 Skills Summit identified skilled migration as a critical strategy to address the skills shortage in Western Australia. However, while border closures continue to impact access to skills and labour, more work needs to be done to address the under-employment and unemployment of migrants already living in Australia so they can be recognised in the recruitment process.

Kaleidoscope Initiative’s Acting Project Lead, Krishna Karangiya believes, “If we fail to utilise the pool of talent we have onshore right now, Australia will miss a big opportunity. “Employers, service providers and all spheres of government can work together to support skilled workforce that is underutilised and underrepresented in engineering and all other sectors.”

A recent report by Engineers Australia highlights the unemployment rate of migrant engineers and how it impacts on the performance of Australia’s skilled migration program. “Of the top 10 migrant groups by country of origin, which deliver 67.1% of all migrant engineers, all have higher rates of unemployment than Australian-born engineers. For those from India, China, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the differences are stark. The only source countries that come within one percentage point of the Australian-born rate are England and South Africa.”

According to a report by RBE Economics “the future depends on better integration of diverse workers. There are large groups of underutilized people who could join the workforce or be more fully employed. Youth and immigrants could be better integrated and offered more opportunities.”

In his article Buahene states, “That if hiring processes are not inclusive; these candidates will never get discovered … and steps need to happen at every touchpoint along the process from writing the posting, to advertising, to assessing resumes and interviewing to ensure the hiring committee takes an equitable approach. Initiatives such as those that address hiring bias ensure that international credentials are not discounted, and ensure the posting is disseminated beyond the “usual” networks, are critical.”

Kaleidoscope Initiative(KI) delivers the Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program(KMP) which has been created in consultation with TRIEC, to help migrants who are unemployed or under-employed to improve their employment potential and become recognised in the recruitment process. KI also works with employers, service providers and government groups to assist them to harness the rewards that a diverse and inclusive workforce offers.

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