Short-staffed employers keen to on-board refugees

08 February 2022 4 min. read
More news on

More than half of UK employers have taken on refugees as workers in the last year, while a similar number intend to do so in the next 12 months. To facilitate this progress, however, firms need support addressing cultural, legal and economic barriers.

For years, a refugee crisis has been unfolding on the borders of Europe, with millions of people fleeing war, famine and economic collapse in the hope of seeking refuge across the continent. In the continued fallout from the US’ withdrawal from its occupation of Afghanistan, this looks set to take a new turn.

A humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is expected to see as many as 20,000 Afghan refugees arrive in the UK over the next five years – joining the estimated 374,000 refugees already in Britain. Arriving is far from the end of most refugees worries, though. Prejudice, bureaucracy and cultural barriers mean that refugees are four-times as likely to be unemployed and in need of support than other residents.

Short-staffed employers keen to on-board refugees

Illustrating the difficulties the refugee community faces; it has been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to charity Breaking Barriers, almost one-in-five refugees who were in work prior to the pandemic report having lost their jobs – significantly higher than 5% of people who had lost their jobs by October 2020 in the UK overall. However, it is possible to turn the situation around, if new data from Grant Thornton is on point.

Research from Grant Thornton’s latest Business Outlook Tracker has revealed that UK businesses are increasingly receptive to taking refugees into their workforce. Of 601 businesses surveyed, 62% were open to the idea of hiring refugees, while in actuality just over half had already done so. On top of this, 51% insisted they were likely to hire in the next 12 months – as job vacancies continue to reach record highs across nearly all sectors. 

With the tightening labour market, encouraging refugees into the workforce presents opportunities for businesses to collaborate, addressing refugee unemployment while simultaneously addressing skills shortages. As well as this, the research found the top motivations that businesses cite for hiring refugees are supporting the diversity and inclusion agenda, responding to Afghanistan and other refugee crises and being socially responsible. 

However, many employers also say that they lack confidence on doing so – with 40% saying they need additional support to recruit refugees. The main concerns regarding refugee recruitment are cultural barriers, how to access the refugee talent pool, and how to manage the legal right to work for refugees. This is something Breaking Barriers, and Grant Thornton, hope to change in the coming months.

Building bridges

Having had no prior experience of working with refugees, Grant Thornton became one of Breaking Barriers’ founding partners in January 2018. Since that time, the firm has managed work placements and 15 employability workshops with over 270 attendees, covering a range of topics including networking and interview skills.  

Karen Higgins, Head of Sustainability at Grant Thornton UK, commented, “Working with people during these workshops has highlighted the quality of talent out there.  Our first full-time refugee placement was a huge success and gave the individual the much-needed confidence to secure a permanent role in the education sector. Our first permanent hire into the business arrived following another successful placement.  Although the current circumstances have made this work more difficult, we have recently directly hired another Breaking Barriers client into the firm.” 

Breaking Barriers has supported over 1,300 people of refugee background – 50% of whom have achieved their goal of entering employment, education, training, or volunteering. The charity currently works with over 30 businesses to support them to hire and support refugees and runs the Fuse network, a collective united in the common goal to improve the lives of refugees through meaningful and sustainable employment through the business community.     

Matthew Powell, CEO and Founder of Breaking Barriers, added, “We know that refugees in the UK can and want work. They want to fulfil their potential and integrate into their new home through employment that matches their skills, experience, and aspirations. For businesses, hiring refugees brings huge value, addressing skills gaps, nurturing a diverse and inclusive workplace, and enhancing social impact by solving real barriers to employment. We know businesses want to step-up and play their part. However, we also recognise that navigating the support and hiring of refugees can feel daunting and complex – but it doesn’t need to be, so we’re here to help.”