Refugee Week WIN event

At Renaisi’s Workforce Inclusivity Network event a panel from Amey shared their experiences of setting up a successful refugee talent placement programme.

After seeking sanctuary in a safe new home, refugees face many barriers to restarting their careers. Those barriers can cause further harm to refugees while employers miss out on an untapped – often highly skilled and experienced – talent pool of professionals.

With support from organisations like Renaisi, refugees can rebuild their lives and careers in the UK. Amey, a leading infrastructure services and engineering company, partnered with us to recruit more inclusively and fill talent gaps in their Advisory and Analytics business. So far, they have hired three data and business analysts, with a further two engineers hired in other business areas.

To mark Refugee Week 2023, Renaisi hosted an event with a panel of speakers from Amey to share their experience of offering placements and hiring refugees.

Hannah Brooke, Renaisi’s Head of Partnerships interviewed the panel that consisted of:

  • Shadi Rahimi a Strategic Consultant recruited into Amey with the support of Renaisi’s team
  • Joel Lindop who heads up Data Science and Analytics within their new digital consulting business.
  • Maya Naomi Wood, a project and programme manager and Shadi’s line manager.
  • Gary Marshall – the recruitment team lead within Amey Consulting.

Joel – Can you provide some insight as to why Amy set up a refugee employment programme?

In my team we’re focused on skills around data analysis and data science. Huge opportunities have opened up because of the amount of data we can access these days, which means there’s enormous demand for data analysis skills. Traditionally people with relevant experience come into this from academic, computer science backgrounds but now with the industry ballooning, people are pivoting their careers from all sorts of different backgrounds.

We’ve been building this team for just shy of 12 years. To start with we were meeting with people working in a university context but that’s a very limited pool to source the people who are going to help you do great things in your business. This is a very exciting area to work in, with lots of potential, so we had to look elsewhere to meet that skills gap.

One of the things we’re conscious of is that we work with a client base who have very different life experiences. It’s not just about the technical side of what we’re doing with data to solve problems, it’s also about how we relate to people in the organisations we work with. Having varied life experiences is one of the ways we can make a real difference.

The work with Renaisi opens up a talent pool that we would potentially otherwise have missed; it is a really valuable part of the mix. Working with Hannah and her team, we can connect with individuals who might not have ended up having interviews through our traditional recruitment channels but have real potential to work with us.

Another interesting benefit is thinking about how we deploy people who’ve got really rich life experience. From roles they’ve done in the past – before they’ve made the pivot into data analysis – and acknowledging a very turbulent period in their life, which has resulted in them coming to the United Kingdom. People who’ve got a perspective – from another career, other workplace, or life experiences – they can draw on that experience for our work.

Gary – what difference has working with Renaisi made to your recruitment processes?

Gary Marshall

One aspect that’s been a real success for us is the pathways that that are on offer which can lead to permanent hire, or the option to go straight to permanent. That’s given us real flexibility as an organisation. It’s also been a real confidence builder for managers.

A six-month placement as an alternative to straight-to-permanent hiring – at the discretion of the hiring manager is designed to support people returning to work after a career break or with no UK experience. Salaries are typically set at graduate level and supplemented with structured learning and development opportunities to enable the employee to orientate in a UK workplace as well as understand company culture and their new role.

Placements enable both employer and employee to explore if there is a good fit. At the end of the placement there is an option (but no obligation) to retain the employee permanently. A fair salary review is then conducted based on skills, experience, and performance of the employee over the placement period so that the permanent offer salary is competitive and in line with industry standards.

Gary – tell us about the challenges

What we’re trying to do is quite different and with the media attention, there are often preconceived ideas and perceptions about who or what a refugee is.

Trying to address those perceptions and help people to understand we’re talking about really highly skilled people who have a tremendous amount to offer not just in terms of their education and their technical skills, but actually you know, life skills and life experience from a very different world. People who perhaps don’t fit in that typical mould but can add a lot of value to what we’re doing.

We have worked to overcome that first by identifying places in the business or particular managers that were really open to the idea of this partnership and tried to really drive success in those areas.

Of the three placements we’ve had in Consulting, all have successfully gone on to be permanent hires. It’s off the back of those successes that we’re able to take those stories to the rest of the business and replicate it.

Maya – tell us about your experience as the line manager?

As Shadi’s line manager, I’ve found it really rewarding. It’s given me a new perspective and prompted me to stop and think about things that I’ve probably been quite oblivious to before.

I would say anybody who’s in doubt about doing this, I’d say get involved.

The candidates that come through are qualified and highly motivated to make this work, and Renaisi’s been here with us the whole way to support us.

Renaisi provides in-work support for the first six-months in a role. This involves meeting the Line Manager at the outset of the placement and three-way meetings with the employee thereafter.

Shadi – can you tell us about some of the barriers you faced trying to find work in the UK?

One of the less obvious barriers is the lack of connections, professional connections. I had five jobs in my home country, and I was introduced and referred by other people for four of them. In my home country, I defined myself with my job title. Here I had to start from the very beginning again.

I came here with my husband and we didn’t get the Right to Work for seven months. We had some savings but we couldn’t get any other help, so I was calculating what we could spend each month but we didn’t know how long it had to last. That uncertainty about the future, about the timeline, about what’s going on in your life when no one will answer to you directly …

There are also the emotional barriers. Even now when I want to talk about my journey as a refugee, I get emotional, and I was lucky that I had a safe journey.  

But when I compare myself with a year ago; everything has changed. I’m a Strategic Consultant in Amey Consulting. I have had remarkable experience in the past year and I’m happy that I’m here.

When Maya and Joel trusted me, they gave me a fresh start. With this opportunity they gave me a new life.

Turn compassion into action

If you are an employer and you have been inspired by Amey’s experience of hiring and investing in refugee talent, get in touch with us.

Renaisi has talented engineers of all types, built environment and business services professionals.

All it takes is a first step, we are here to advise on reasonable adjustments and help you recruit more inclusively so that you can fill your skills gaps, diversify your workforce and deliver social value.

Hannah Brooke Employer Engagement Manager

The facts about refugees and asylum seekers.

In June 2022, the staggering milestone was reached: over 100 million people worldwide displaced from their homes. That figure has risen and is projected to rise further due to war, harmful political systems, and the impact of climate change.

Refugees are people fleeing conflict and persecution and, in many cases, have left behind their loved ones to seek sanctuary in a safe place.

If someone has refugee status in the UK that means they are already resident here with Right to Work, they have a National Insurance number. Employers do not need a sponsorship licence to hire a refugee and they do not need to pay for or organise a visa.

A refugee is not the same as an asylum seeker some of whom have right to work but most don’t. An asylum seeker is a person going through the process to be recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention of which the UK is a signatory. If an asylum seeker’s application is granted they become a refugee.

However, it is only possible to apply for asylum once you are in the UK, not from any other country or a UK embassy. You must be on UK soil. If you do not have an immediate family member in the UK with refugee status, if you are not from Hong Kong or Ukraine, or you don’t meet the eligibility criteria for the Afghan schemes, but you are fleeing from war or persecution, you must do so on your volition.

That’s why we see vulnerable people being forced into the hands of criminal gangs and risking their lives in small boat crossings.