Integration of skilled immigrants into the Australian workplace: a study of engineering and IT professionals

2017-02-27T23:13:36Z (GMT) by Mahmud, Sharmin
The intensity of globalisation requires the mobility of people worldwide. Collective competencies and knowledge of these people are highly required in developed knowledge economies to produce economic value. Australia is such a developed economy which is in need of skilled people because it is badly affected by shortages of skills. Low population growth and the ageing population are largely attributed to the critical shortage of skills in its important economic sectors. As such, Australia has been pursuing a policy of attracting skilled people from across the globe to meet its human capital needs. The immigrant population in Australia comprises diverse people from different language and nationality backgrounds. Immigrants leave their country of origin with new hopes to have a better life in the country of destination like Australia. But after their arrival, they often face difficulty in getting integrated in the mainstream Australian society as well as in their workplaces. The integration problems of immigrants have received attention of academics, researchers and policy makers in the ways of political discourse, public debate and academic research. However, most of the scholarly works have addressed integration issues of immigrants (in Australia) either in a social or in a wider labour market context. And, in such research, differences of skills and attributes of immigrants and their effects have mostly been analysed from the perspective of immigrants’ earning disparity (Antecol, Cobb-Clark, & Trejo, 2003; Chiswick & Miller, 2010; Hawthorne, 2001; Junankar, Paul, & Yasmeen, 2010; Parasnis, Fausten, & Cheo, 2008). Issues relating to integration of immigrants in the Australian workplace context have not received adequate scholarly attention. This study has filled that gap by focusing on skills mismatch of immigrants and its impacts on workplace integration taking various workplace factors into account. Understanding of integration at the workplace/organisational level is vital, because poor workplace integration frustrates immigrants, and affects their productivity, morale and overall performance of the recruiting firms. In examining the workplace integration process this study has engaged mainly the immigrants and the employers in different Australian organisations, and then involves ‘other stakeholders’ such as policy makers, training and education institutions, skills assessing bodies, recruitment agencies, and some other organisations working in the community for diversity/multicultural management. A qualitative research design was adopted to address the research questions. Data were collected through face-face face interviews with the participants to explore the integration process within their real-life contexts with Australian workplaces. Primary data were obtained from skilled immigrants having information technology [IT] and engineering backgrounds and managers across six organisations of Australia. Data were also collected from ‘other stakeholders’ to ascertain their important roles in facilitating integration of skilled immigrants in the workplace. In addition, secondary sources of data have been used to complement the primary data. The research findings demonstrate that the particular technical, language and communication skills immigrants from IT and engineering backgrounds hold are often found inadequate in Australian workplace. The difference of skills requirement between immigrants’ home country and Australian context has been discerned as the main reason. In such a situation they are often undervalued in getting career positions commensurate with their credentials and skills. This undervaluation in turn affects their morale and thinking pattern which have negatively affected their integration in the workplace. Differing societal cultures of most of the immigrants with respect to the host Australian culture are also disadvantageous to immigrants in their integration process. With regard to the roles of all key stakeholders in the integration process, this study suggests that although immigrants play an important role in closing the gaps between their available skills/attributes and the demand of employers, they are often too engaged in mind and heart with their own cultural values/customs. As such they lack enthusiasm in taking initiative for building social capital in Australia. The employer is another important stakeholder group who offers a range of general training facilities but those are not well targeted to immigrants to facilitate them being integrated in the workplace. Likewise, Policy makers are more concerned about the pre-migration strategies rather than post-arrival supports. Among others, skills assessing bodies and education and training institutions assist immigrants from their own positions. However the lack of a well synergised policy and coordination among different stakeholders in extending their efforts to help integration of immigrants results in less than expected outcomes. The principal practical implications of the study are threefold. First, necessary policies and programs at the federal and state government level need to be in place to assist immigrants in understanding the Australian workplace systems, cultures and values so that integration in the workplace becomes smoother for immigrants. Second, policy makers need to take comprehensive inputs from employer groups in order to incorporate their specific requirements into the overseas skills assessment process. They also need to make sure that different stakeholders' efforts are conducted in a concerted way to facilitate immigrants in getting integrated in the workplace. Third, immigrants themselves have major responsibilities in understanding the differences of work environment, job requirement, the way of communication, and culture in Australia, and act accordingly for their effective integration in the workplace.