Refugee Council on how to close digital skills gaps
With the help of ServiceNow and its NextGen tech training program.
Why You Should Care
It is time to look outside the box to resolve the digital skills crisis.
Here's why employers should look to refugees, who, in turn, are looking for meaningful, stable careers.
Find out all about ServiceNow's partnership with non-profit the Refugee Council.
Founded in 1951, the Refugee Council is a non-profit that exists to “support and employer refugees and transform their experience of seeking protection in the UK”, explains employer engagement manager Fabienne Camm.
She sat down with UNLEASH at ServiceNow’s World Forum to discuss the employment side of the Refugee Council’s work.
Camm shares that refugees “face a very unique set of barriers in terms of applying their skills and experiences to the UK labor market”.
The UK is a very hostile environment for refugees; “there’s stigma and misunderstanding” particularly around their right to work.
“Even though their paperwork looks a bit different, it is completely legal to hire refugee talent”, and doing so is in fact very beneficial for businesses.
Camm shares refugees are often very loyal workers, with high retention rates. Their work ethic “is off the scale”, they are often engaged, enthusiastic, and this can be infectious in the teams they work in.
Other barriers include English language skills, plus cultural differences that make it “really hard for people to integrate in the workplace”.
And people mustn’t forget about the mental health considerations. “In order to get refugee status, you have a very specific reason for being here. You have had to make that heartbreaking decision to flee conflict, violence or persecution”, notes Camm. This, and the “trauma of navigating the UK asylum system” means that many refugees are not ready to work as soon as they arrive.
So the Refugee Council works hard to ensure that “we’re building people up so that they’re entering the labor force at the right time for them”. Once that time comes, the charity supports them to “reconnect or connect to careers within the labor market”.
They are given a one-to-one mentor who helps them with CV writing and interview skills, and then helps them identify the right opportunities. For example, the charity could help a healthcare professional get a job in the NHS, or provide people with training so they can pivot into the tech and hospitality sectors.
Enter ServiceNow’s NextGen program
To help upskill refugees in the world of tech, the Refugee Council has teamed up with software giant ServiceNow. The pair have been working together since early 2021 on the NextGen program, an eight-week bootcamp that trains them on in-demand tech skills, including the ins and outs of ServiceNow’s Now platform.
But the program doesn’t just help solve the over-representation of refugees in unemployment and unstable jobs, it has the added benefit of resolving the digital skills gap crisis by helping organizations to identify and recruit from untapped pools of talent.
The World Economic Forum estimates that the global shortage of digital skills will leave 85 million jobs unfilled by 2030 – this represents a $8.5 trillion gap between possible and realized annual revenue.
This is because currently one in three employees in the US and a quarter of British workers lack the right digital skills. This is hurting business bottom lines, with 70% of UK companies saying they are short of the digitally skilled workers they need to survive and thrive in the future.
Camm shares that six Refugee Council cohorts have gone through NextGen; “we’ve really noticed that each cohort of NextGen graduates becomes a bit of an ambassador for the program, which speaks to the opportunities that exist around NextGen”.
85% of the graduates have landed tech jobs as a result (about a third of these are refugee women, who face even more barriers to success in the UK labor market).
For Camm, this demonstrates ServiceNow and the Refugee Council’s joint commitment to “get people jobs in the ecosystem, not just [for them] to learn the skills for the sake of doing it”.
“ServiceNow’s metric for success isn’t simply about how many people start or complete the course, they’re interested in how many people land jobs”.
The question that remains is who is hiring this refugee talent from NextGen? Which employers are leading the way on equal opportunities at work, and reaping the rewards of hiring motivated, refugee talent as well as closing their skills gaps?
Camm says there are 16 organizations that have hired refugees through NextGen – these include PwC, Lloyds Banking Group, whyaye and ServiceNow itself.
whyaye is a consultancy and it hired three graduates from one cohort. The company’s product and platform assurance lead Shane Finch tells UNLEASH that NextGen “has given us the ability to get people who may not have a technology background, but have their own life experiences to bring value and different opinions”.
Finch urges other companies to follow suit and think outside the box when it comes to recruitment.
For Camm, the hire at ServiceNow is particularly standout because it “speaks to the commitment form ServiceNow to support refugees into work”. The employee in question is called Nesrin Sevi, and she shared her story with UNLEASH.
In her native country of Turkey, Sevi worked in banking for 14 years, but after gaining refugee status in 2018, she undertook the NextGen program. She thoroughly enjoyed it, and learnt a lot, as well as built connections and friendships with her fellow graduates.
Now her job is to look after and support participants of the program, as well as their mentors and trainers. The work is tremendously meaningful to Sevi; “I am grateful every day to be part of the ServiceNow family and I feel very lucky…I want to help people rebuild their future”.
Supporting refugees at work
While programs like ServiceNow’s NextGen can help refugees find meaningful jobs, the training alone won’t solve other challenges that refugees face in the workforce.
While the Refugee Council provides a lot of support to refugees themselves, the charity also ensures they are getting in-work support as well.
To do this, the non-profit builds relationships with the organizations it works with, and it meets with them once a month for the first three months of employment to check in. The charity also does refugee awareness training.
While refugees fit into what employers are doing around diversity, equity and inclusion (D,E&I), there are some important specifics to pay attention to.
For instance, “it is important to not out someone’s refugee status at work”, so organizations need to think about how they provide support. They must honor that these individuals “want to rebuild their lives here and get on with their job”, and so it’s important to take “their lead on how to navigate those conversations” – remember, there is often trauma associated with questions about their families or their home countries.
“There’s no expectation to treat them differently, it is just about making provisions”, particularly in the first few months – as well as creating an open, inclusive environment where they can ask questions and feel supported.
The most important thing for Camm and the Refugee Council is that organizations are not doing pity hiring – refugees should be hired because they did well in the interview and they are a good fit for the organization.
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Allie is an experienced business journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.