Boosting Australia’s economy by unlocking migrant skills

By Our Reporter
Experienced IT professional, AbdAlmassih // Pic supplied

Australia’s economy could see a significant boost by fully utilising the skills of migrant workers already in the country. New research by non-profit SSI highlights that over 620,000 migrant workers in Australia are unable to fully use their skills, despite often having higher qualification levels than their Australian-born counterparts.

The study, “Billion Dollar Benefit: The economic impact of unlocking the skills potential of migrants in Australia,” conducted by Deloitte Access Economics, reveals that nearly half (44%) of migrants and refugees are working in roles below their skill level. This underutilisation represents a missed economic opportunity. The report estimates that aligning migrants’ jobs with their skill levels could add $70 billion to the Australian economy over the next decade. This would create around 51,000 full-time jobs, increase wages for all workers, and enhance productivity in key industries such as construction, manufacturing, trade, and financial services.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis emphasises the mismatch between Australia’s intention to attract international talent and the reality of underutilised skills. “For years, we’ve known that the underutilisation of skills and qualifications was an issue for our migrant and refugee workforce, but for the first time, we can now quantify just what we as a country are missing out on,” she said.

The report shares the story of AbdAlmassih, a refugee from Syria with a lengthy IT career, who has struggled to find relevant employment in Australia since his arrival in 2023. “Many IT employers won’t acknowledge a degree from overseas, thinking it’s not strong enough. Even unpaid volunteering roles in the industry are turning me down. I don’t understand. I have 20 years experience in my field. I apply to many jobs, yet I never receive any response,” he said.

Unlocking opportunities for people like AbdAlmassih involves streamlining the recognition of overseas qualifications, providing language training in employment contexts, and combating racial discrimination. This approach would not only deliver economic benefits but also ensure that individuals can realise their full potential.

The research reveals that recent migrants are 1.7 times more likely to hold a university-level qualification than the Australian-born workforce. However, they are earning $3.9 billion less annually than they would if they worked at their skill level. The industries that stand to gain the most from better utilising migrant skills include professional services, public administration, and education. Additionally, sectors like construction and manufacturing would see significant productivity boosts.

All Australian states and territories would benefit from better utilising the skills of migrants. The largest economic impacts would be in New South Wales ($2.5 billion and 12,357 jobs), Victoria ($2.2 billion and 12,351 jobs), Queensland ($1.8 billion and 9,706 jobs), and Western Australia ($1 billion and 4,148 jobs).

Allianz Australia Managing Director Richard Feledy highlights the broader benefits of embracing migrant skills. “Embracing skilled refugees and migrants can address critical skills shortages, drive economic growth, and contribute to better decision making and outcomes for all,” he said.

LinkedIn Country Manager for Australia and New Zealand, Matt Tindale, points to the advantages of a skills-first approach to hiring. “LinkedIn data has revealed how a skills-first approach to the labour market, in which people are hired based on skills rather than degrees or certification, can help businesses worldwide benefit from more diverse talent pools and more equitable hiring processes,” he noted.

Business NSW CEO Daniel Hunter encourages businesses to harness the potential of skilled migrants. “Businesses that are crying out for workers must broaden their search to harness migrants’ potential,” he said. Hunter also emphasises the dual benefits of employing skilled refugees and migrants, which helps individuals reach their potential and eases skills shortages.

David Borger, Executive Director of Business Western Sydney, stresses the untapped potential in the migrant and refugee populations. “Western Sydney stands to benefit enormously from fully integrating the talents of our migrant and refugee populations. By tapping into this potential, we can drive innovation, fill critical skill shortages, and enhance the cultural richness of our community,” he said.

Case studies in the report, such as those of Alaa Daher and Chantal Mousad, illustrate the personal challenges and successes of skilled migrants. Daher, an automation engineer from Syria, has faced significant barriers in finding employment in his field despite his qualifications and experience. Mousad, a former Chief Risk Officer in Syria, successfully restarted her career in Australia but still encounters structural challenges.

The report was jointly funded by SSI, Allianz Australia, LinkedIn, Business NSW, and Business Western Sydney. It is the first to explore the national economic impact of fully utilising migrant professionals’ skills and forms part of the Billion Dollar Benefit advocacy movement, which aims to reduce employment barriers for refugees and migrants.

SSI delivers a range of human services connecting individuals, families, and children from diverse backgrounds with opportunities, driving equality, empathy, and celebration of every individual.

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